Next steps for Social Partnership in Wales

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‘Social partnership’ is a spectacularly bland name for a powerful idea.

The idea is that workers are actively involved in making the public policy decisions that will have an impact on their working lives. 

In the Welsh Government’s own words social partnership:

“brings together government, employers and trade unions in areas of mutual interest, to design and implement better solutions.”  

It’s an approach that has been considered normal across much of Europe for the last century, but which was discarded at a UK-level under Thatcher.

The arguments in favour of social partnership are rooted in both principle and in practicality.  

The principle argument is that workers, through their unions, should be at the table when policy decisions are being made that are going to affect them.

The practical argument is that social partnership has been proven to facilitate the delivery of fairer work. It also tackles inequality in the countries where it is an established way of working.   

For example, the International Labour Organisation has concluded:

“The best solutions arise through social dialogue in its many forms and levels, from national tripartite consultations and cooperation to plant-level collective bargaining. Engaging in dialogue, the social partners also fortify democratic governance, building vigorous and resilient labour market institutions that contribute to long-term social and economic stability and peace.”

Over the last two decades the Welsh Government has sought to revive and rebuild social partnership in Wales. Now, in line with the recommendations of the Fair Work Commission, it is looking to strengthen those arrangements by putting them into law.  

This new Social Partnership Bill is an important piece of legislation for the Fair Work agenda and for unions in Wales. It will also:

  • place a duty on public bodies to work in social partnership and promote Fair Work.
  • require public bodies to produce a procurement strategy with Fair Work at its heart which. This will leverage the £6.3bn that Welsh Government spends each year on products and services in order to drive change in the private sector.

The key tests for the legislation will be whether it actually helps deliver Fair Work. Do the measures in the Bill facilitate the expansion of collective bargaining? Will the duties placed on public bodies be properly enforced?  

The new Bill also represents a challenge to unions. Ultimately, social partnership is just a way of working and is not in itself a solution to any of the problems that workers are facing. It is down to us as a movement to make the most of the influence that social partnership could give us. We must work together to make sure that the Government delivers on the promise of the Fair Work Commission’s recommendations.