It won’t have escaped your notice that there have been repeated waves of strike action across the UK. Unions have been fighting back against the punishing squeeze on their members, and Wales has seen its fair share of disputes. However, compare the approach of Welsh government with the UK government and you find a very different attitude to industrial relations.
In Westminster, where a conceited, imperious attitude prevails, disputes in England have often deepened and toxified. The UK government’s unwillingness to engage with unions, and their barely concealed hostility towards them, has seen prolonged strike action where agreement could otherwise have been reached.
It hasn’t been plain sailing in Wales, but by adopting the principles of social partnership, there have been comparatively fewer disputes. And the disputes that did occur have been resolved more quickly.
Trade unions in Wales maintain their industrial power but, unlike the adversarial stance seen in England, they have a Welsh government committed to dialogue and finding solutions.
The new Social Partnership Act puts the voice of workers at the heart of decision-making in Wales. Under the provisions of the legislation, there is now a ‘Social Partnership Duty’ on all public bodies. This requires them to set well-being objectives as defined by the Well-Being of Future Generations Act.
Social partnership means they will now do so in consultation with their recognised trade unions, consulting with them when taking strategic decisions to deliver these objectives.
The key element here is the legal imperative to consult with unions. What was once largely informal and subject to variation between employers, is now standardised and legally binding.
Public bodies must consult and work with unions under the Act. Attempts to shirk this duty, or lock unions out from decision-making can no longer be done without consequence.
Through these provisions, and through a new role for unions as statutory advisors on the Social Partnership Council, the Act secures the rightful place of trade unions as essential partners in public policymaking.
Wales TUC has long campaigned for fair work and to make Wales a fair work nation. The means tackling problems in Wales’ labour market, and stamping out unsafe and exploitative labour practices.
The social partnership model is instrumental in achieving this goal.
The Act imposes a duty on public bodies to source goods, services and materials in a socially responsible way. This includes labour, so sub-contractors and outsourced staff will no longer be able to be treated as a second-class workforce.
It also requires large public construction projects to provide employment opportunities for disadvantaged and marginalised groups. They must also deliver appropriate training, and ensure that employment rights, access to trade unions, and union representation are enforced and respected.
A murky world of sub-contracting on the cheap, blocking trade unions, and evading duties to communities and the environment is anathema to us. It’s also diametrically opposed to the principles of social partnership.
Within the powers available to Welsh Government, the Act has the potential to flush out these foul practices. We look forward to a new era where workers are safe, respected, and free to join a union.
We’re pleased that this legislation finally strikes a blow against decades of indignity and insecurity that many workers in Wales have endured.
Although the Act has now passed into law in Wales, this isn’t the end of the story. Our focus is now on engaging with Welsh government and employers through the mechanisms enshrined in the Act. We believe it will be invaluable in our efforts to push for a better deal for workers.
We want to build on its achievements and are hopeful the influence of the Act will spread. We want this to be a step towards bringing fair work and the benefits of social partnership to all workers.
The Social Partnership and Public Procurement Act marks a pivotal moment for Wales. A positive vision has been embraced that puts unions where they always should have been - at the table, engaged, and integral to policymaking.
After years of hard work, we’re delighted to see the efforts of the union movement made real in this legislation. We look forward to seeing the profound difference the Act can make to the lives of workers across Wales.