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5 ways to integrate employment charters into public procurement

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Not a penny of public money should go to bad bosses. Around the country, innovative devolved authorities and trade unions are working together to hard-wire good work into public contacts.

Employment charters setting local or sectoral employment standards are helping secure commitments to good work, notably among employers, in the absence of strong national employment legislation.  

Devolved authorities are increasingly connecting employment standards to procurement by requiring suppliers to comply with charters. This is a big step towards making sure that decent work is part and parcel of public contracts.  

A new TUC briefing explores how charters have successfully been linked to procurement.  

Here are 5 lessons on how to make it happen.  

  1. Champions are critical 

Committed leadership and coalition-building are critical for good work procurement.  

This notably includes politicians. From Salford to Southwark, elected leaders have spearheaded the inclusion of charters in procurement and given officials a clear mandate to turn political promises into practice.  

Others are coming on board with new commitments. The Manchester metro mayor Andy Burnham has pledged to link the Greater Manchester Employment Charter to all public procurement in the city region.  

  1. The legislative and regulatory framework is an important enabler 

Law and regulation mandates public authorities to consider how procurement can deliver economic, social and environmental benefits.  

Authorities putting this into practice have drawn on enabling elements from social value, public contracts and local government legislation as well as national procurement policy. This has helped make a strong legal and practical case for mandating charter compliance in their procurement and public contracts.  

For example, Salford City Council has used the Social Value Act and its Employment Charter together to encourage contractors to pay the living wage and checked for compliance during bid evaluation.  

But the national picture is ever-changing with the Westminster Procurement Bill and the Social Partnership and Public Procurement (Wales) Bill under development. Making sure they help deliver good work into the future is a priority for TUC and affiliated unions. 

  1. Innovative and committed procurement and contracts teams turn aspiration into reality 

Public authorities interpret social value in different ways. Those who innovate by explicitly referencing employment charters during procurement – and monitor and enforce implementation during contract delivery - have made good progress on this agenda.  

Southwark Council is a great example. Their 2019 Fairer Future Procurement Framework explains they will go beyond the social value legislation to support Southwark residents’ social and economic wellbeing. Several local and sectoral charters are referenced, including the London Mayor’s Good Work Standard and Unite the Union’s Construction Charter.  

In late 2013 the Council adapted UNISON’s Ethical Care Charter. Social care providers are audited for compliance during contracting, with ongoing implementation monitored by the Council’s contract management team – an approach which recently won an exemplary procurement practice award.  

  1. Trade unions are vital strategic partners 

Strategic engagement between contracting authorities and trade unions is critical.  

In Wales, the ‘Code of Practice for Ethical Employment in Supply Chains’ was developed by the Workforce Partnership Council, a tripartite social partnership structure of trade unions, employers and the Welsh Government. It outlines expectations of those awarded public contracts, including elimination of illegal and unethical employment practices, providing a living wage and no use of zero-hours contracts.    

Public authority engagement with sectoral charters, including those developed by trade unions, has also proven its worth. For example, the UNISON Ethical Care Charter has provided a practical framework for trade unions and local government procurement officials to agree an approach to good work procurement, in turn, delivering improvements for the local social care workforce.  

  1. Supporting employers helps ensure charter standards are met 

Support for employers during procurement and contract management processes is a key ingredient for success.  

In 2022 Southwark Council built its new Residential Care Charter into all procurement. Offering support and some flexibility have helped with compliance – for example the Council facilitates meetings between care providers and trade unions and allows a short time during contract inception to formalise trade union recognition.  

Looking forward 

Tying charters to procurement is a practical way to make sure that public spending delivers decent work, thereby helping achieve social value and economic development goals.  

Good work procurement is entirely possible. Increasing commitment to quality employment and sharing knowledge of how procurement can be used to achieve it will be critical to build on recent success stories.   

For more information, read the new TUC briefing here.

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