Making Wales a Fair Work Nation

June 17, 2019

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By Alan Felstead, Research Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University

In 2018, the Carnegie UK Trust published Measuring Good Work, which sets out a framework for measuring quality of work in UK national statistics and making this a part of our national debate. The devolved nations of the UK each have existing strategies for measuring and promoting the delivery of better jobs. In this new guest blog, Alan Felstead, Independent Expert Advisor to the Welsh Fair Work Commission, outlines the Commission Report’s key recommendations to make Wales a Fair Work Nation.

Despite fears over Brexit, unemployment in the UK recently fell to its lowest level in 44 years.  However, concerns have been voiced about the quality of the jobs created with zero-hours contracts, gig economy working and the growth in low paid work taken as emblematic features of a deterioration in job quality.

It is therefore no surprise that politicians of all persuasions have started to turn their attention away from a sole focus on job creation to one which also takes into account what type of jobs are being created.  This is evident in the Prime Minister’s decision to commission Matthew Taylor to carry out a review of modern working practices with the ambition of making all work in the UK ‘fair and decent with realistic scope for development and fulfilment’.  The Taylor Report was published in July 2017.  A few months later the Industrial Strategy went on to commit the government to create ‘more good jobs and better pay … high quality jobs for all UK citizens’.  The Carnegie UK Trust along with the RSA has played a central role in this debate with recommendations published in September 2018 about how to measure good work and therefore gauge progress towards meeting these goals.

In the devolved administrations (as well as in some local authorities) interest in job quality has also grown.  In Wales, for example, the former First Minister announced that he wanted ‘to make Wales a “fair work nation” … in which more people can have access to good work and a secure income … [thereby creating] more and better jobs closer to home’ (former First Minister’s Speech to the Welsh Labour Conference, Llandudno, 25 March 2017).

To drive this agenda forward, an independent panel of five experts chaired by Linda Dickens – the Fair Work Commission – was set up by the First Minister of Wales in late July 2018 and tasked to report by March 2019.  Its 144-page report was presented to the First Minister in March 2019 and published on 3 May 2019.  The Report comprises 48 recommendations to Welsh Government and draws on a range of evidence sources including 57 responses to the Commission’s call for evidence, around 30 meetings with representative organisations and a thorough literature review.

The Report makes six key recommendations for immediate implementation.

  1. The Report offers a definition of fair work which should be used and adopted by Welsh Government. It defines fair work as a situation where ‘workers are fairly rewarded, heard and represented, secure and able to progress in a healthy, inclusive environment where rights are respected’.
  2. In order to drive the fair work agenda in Wales, Welsh Government needs to create an adequately funded and appropriately staff Office for Fair Work.
  3. Fair work needs be the responsibility of all Welsh Government ministers and officials.
  4. Ministers should be required to produce regular internal reports on how fair work is being promoted in their areas of responsibility and there should be an annual Fair Work Wales Report published by Welsh Government for public scrutiny.
  5. Welsh Government needs to make a public policy commitment to promoting trade unions and collective bargaining.
  6. The Commission’s recommendations should inform the development of the proposed Social Partnership Act which aims to give a statutory underpinning to the promotion trade union membership, collective bargaining and better dialogue between the Welsh Government and the trade union movement in Wales.

In addition, the Report recommends that a data infrastructure plan is needed to measure and monitor progress to making Wales a fair work nation.  This should include:

  • Collecting data from employers and workers in Wales in order to provide periodic evidence on progress to making Wales a fair work nation. The Report recommends that a dedicated Welsh survey of employers be carried out and that questions on fair work are regularly included in the National Survey for Wales.
  • Taking up the opportunity for engagement and consultation on future UK data collection exercises, as recommended in the Carnegie UK Trust-RSA Measuring Good Work report, so that the Welsh definition and characteristics of fair work feature more strongly and that disaggregation of the resulting data is possible.
  • Continuing to boost the Welsh sample size of surveys which produce data of relevance to tracking fair work in order to benchmark progress against other parts of the UK.
  • Amending the national indicators for tracking well-being in Wales under the Well-being and Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 in order to give fair work greater public profile and cement the importance of fair work in the data landscape.

The Report was published on 3 May 2019.  It has received a warm welcome from key stakeholders such as the Wales TUC, the Federation of Small Businesses Wales, ACAS and Assembly Members.  A formal response is expected from Welsh Government shortly.

Alan Felstead is Research Professor at the School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University and sat on the Fair Work Commission as the Independent Expert Advisor.