Making Wales a ‘Fair Work’ nation

Alastair Gittins
5 min readJun 21, 2019

A blog with Wales TUC on the Fair Work Commission

The Fair Work Commission has just published a landmark report and we caught up with Wales TUC policy officer Ceri Williams, to find out how this could improve the lives of working people.

Ceri Williams, Wales TUC policy officer

Ceri, what is the Fair Work Commission?

It’s an independent commission set up by Welsh Government after longstanding demands from the Wales TUC and the trade union movement for Wales to become a fair work nation. The commission was asked to analyse how work can be made fairer in Wales. Wales TUC provided evidence to the commission which then made forty recommendations which reflected our long established policy.

Does this mean that Wales is an ‘unfair work’ nation now?

From speaking to trade unions, Wales TUC was able to advise the Commission there are many examples of unfair working practices in Wales. Employment levels might be high but in-work poverty is increasing. Lots of people work a full week but they’re still not able to afford the necessary basics — food for the family, bills and rent. Pay has not kept pace with costs.

We’ve also seen the growth of zero hour contracts. Work is insecure and we know it has affected UNISON members in care, cleaning and security work and other public service jobs. The severe spending cuts driven by the UK Government have accelerated these trends.

What does the report say?

For the first time ‘fair work’ has been defined and accepted by Welsh Government and this is important because it emphasises workers and their trade union representatives must be heard.

Fair work definition:

“Fair work is where workers are fairly rewarded, heard and represented, secure and able to progress in a healthy, inclusive environment where rights are respected.”

The report calls for employers in Wales to be fair work employers and the Welsh government to be pro-active in helping to bring this about. That means Welsh government taking steps to supporting trade unions in promoting collective bargaining governing pay and everything to do with the workplace.

We know where trade unions are able to negotiate collective agreements with employers, pay is higher and employment conditions are better and you will be treated more fairly at work.

Pay is higher in workplaces where trade unions are recognised.

That’s why the Wales TUC is working in social partnership with Welsh Government to make Wales a fair work nation — with the extension of collective bargaining and union representation at the heart of delivery.

There is a recommendation in the report that any company bidding for public service contracts should have to sign the Code of Practice on Ethical Procurement in Supply Chains. Again, this would strengthen the hand of workers. Bad employers bidding for public contracts would be not be able to undercut decent employers.

What does the report say about social care?

Social care has been identified as a particular problem area of unfair work. Most carers are female and many have been forced to exist on wages which are difficult to live on. It’s predominantly low pay, insecure contracts and some people are unsure one day to the next whether they have got a job.

Many carers are forced to exist on very low wages

The report recommends Welsh Government sets up a social care forum where employers, trade unions and Welsh Government meet on an equal footing to look at ways of improving employment and pay rights in the sector.

The lack of funding in the sector means there is cost-cutting and good employers are undermined. The fact that it recommends Welsh Government be involved in a forum means it will have to address the problem of funding for social care.

Where employers want to outsource services, Wales TUC wants to see trade union recognition as a necessary stipulation of the contract.

How has Welsh Government reacted to the report?

The lead minister, Julie James AM (who is a UNISON member), has accepted the initial six recommendations of the report so that’s positive.

First Minister Mark Drakeford (also a UNISON member), has promised a social partnership act before the end of the Assembly term, which is only two years away, so there is a sense of urgency.

L-R UNISON convenor Peter Crews, First Minister Mark Drakeford, UNISON Cymru Wales Labour Link chair Dan Beard

What happens next and how can Wales TUC and unions take the proposals forward with Welsh Government?

It’s an exciting time, with Welsh Government committed to taking action.

Wales TUC wants Welsh Government to move quickly with a timetable for action and a clear statement they support the role of trade unions in the workplace and collective bargaining.

Welsh government should set up a strong directorate to take forward a social partnership act, promoting social partnership at national level and that means national bargaining agreements. The Code of Practice on Ethical Procurement in Supply Chains ought to be binding.

It is important for trade unions to explain to Assembly Members why change is necessary. UNISON has played a big role in lobbying for Wales to be a fair work nation and you will be vital ally in persuading politicians.

UNISON Cymru Wales acting regional secretary Tanya Palmer. UNISON has a big role to play in lobbying for Wales to be a fair work nation.

Wales TUC wants trade unions on more of the bodies Welsh Government is setting up at regional and national level and that presents a challenge for us in terms of personnel. UNISON members need to tell their own stories of what fair work means to them.

There is a fantastic opportunity here. If the recommendations are taken forward and if Wales TUC’s demands are acted on, they will make a real difference to people’s working lives.

Find out more

Link to UNISON summary of the report

Link to report: Fair Work Wales, Report of the Fair Work Commission

Definitions

Wales TUC is the voice at work of over 400,000 trade union members in Wales and, in combination with UNISON and other trade unions, takes their views to Welsh government, employers and business to improve workers’ lives.

Social partnership guarantees the voice of workers at the highest level of government. Employers, government and trade unions meet as equal partners to decide government policy as it relates to the world of work.

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