We’ll achieve good work when we give workers a voice

November 6, 2018

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by Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics, TUC

The Carnegie UK Trust’s report on measuring good work gives us a great set of tools for measuring how work is changing. But delivering on good work will require that government lets unions access workplaces, to strengthen workers’ ability to negotiate a better working life for themselves.

It was great to speak at the launch of the report. Not least because the project was a good example of bringing together unions (including our Deputy General Secretary Paul Nowak, representing the TUC), independent experts and government – to forge a consensus on one of the most important issues we face – improving the quality of working life. Achieving that goal is what the TUC was founded for – and in our 150th year it’s good to see the issue moving closer to the centre of policy and political debate.

The quality of work matters – of course – for workers. But we think improving the quality of work is part of the solution to the  UK’s productivity puzzle too. The amount that workers in the U.K. produce per hour has been flatlining for near on a decade now. We don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to argue that the rise in insecure work over this decade – where people frequently don’t know when or whether they’ll be working from one day to the next – might have something to do with this downturn in our efficiency – and research supports that idea too.

So it’s good to have a consensus based set of measures by which government can start measuring the impact of policies to improve good work. The TUC set out its own set of standards in our Great Jobs Agenda. And while our measures aren’t identical, we’re pleased that the Carnegie UK report recognises the importance of pay, minimum guaranteed hours, health and safety, and most importantly voice at work – with trade union membership recommended as a key measure of the health of a workplace.

But we need to make sure that measuring the quality of work is the first step and not the last towards actually improving it. That means government needs to act. We’re still waiting to hear how the government will respond to the Taylor Review of modern working practices – and still putting pressure on them to ban zero hours contracts, end the loopholes that deny fair pay to agency workers, and make sure that all workers get the workplace rights they deserve.

But even with stronger legislation, we know that the issues that face workers across the country will depend on where they work and who they work for. We hear from a huge diversity of workers’ representatives about the issues they face. The facilities company trying to make the working year two weeks shorter to cut down on workers’ pay. The social care workers kept on ‘split shifts’ – so they don’t get paid over lunch,  but do have to be available. Or those in retail kept on short hours contracts, and facing real income insecurity and hardship.

Identifying the priority for action in each workplace is best done by the workers themselves. And they’re best placed too to negotiate with employers about the steps that would actually tackle the problem – after all, the solutions may not be same in agriculture as they are in hospitality. And that’s why voice in the workplace, and the right to bargain collectively with your employer are so important. Because it’s workers’ who know best what good work means to them and should have the chance to help deliver it.

Measuring Good Work, the final report of the Carnegie UK Trust-RSA Measuring Job Quality Working Group, was published in September 2018. A formal UK government response to the report’s recommendations is expected in autumn 2018.