A stronger social partnership

Published date
The Social Partnership and Public Procurement Bill has been published today, opening a new chapter in the relationship between unions, government and employers.

It provides a statutory basis for what has become a distinct way of working in Wales – bringing workers into the policy-making fold so that their interests are not eclipsed by that of their much wealthier employers.

Social partnership is therefore an attempt to remedy inequality. This is especially important in a country where a third of children are growing up in poverty and more than one in eight workers are classed as insecure. Redressing inequalities like this should be a central role of government, and governments which exclude trades unions from the decision making process only reinforce inequalities.

The Bill strengthens social partnership by bringing unions into the decision making that stems from the Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015 (WFGA). In the public bodies it applies to, the body must seek compromise or consensus with its recognised union(s) on its well-being objectives and the strategic steps it will take to achieve this.

A Social Partnership Council - consisting of an equal number of union, employer and government representatives - will be established by Welsh Government to guide this process at a national level and advise on the Prosperous Wales Well-being Goal. And it creates a Socially Responsible Public Procurement Duty to align the devolved public sector’s procurement spend to the strategic objectives of the WFGA, including Fair Work.

Adopting a reflective approach to social partnership 

Now critics will say that this is class collaboration; that it brings us far too close to both government and employers. This is something we are very mindful of as a movement and it is the reason why not all trade unions are equally enthusiastic about social partnership. It means we adopt a reflective approach to social partnership, considering what delivers for workers and where our efforts are best placed.

But more importantly, social partnership is the direction which our movement has adopted through our democratic process.  At our Congress last month, unions re-endorsed the social partnership approach because it has delivered for workers.

In reality, this means a government that took worker health and safety seriously in the pandemic by mandating risk assessments and putting in place a sick pay scheme for social care workers who needed to self-isolate. It means a government that recognises that lower paid workers will always bear the brunt of the cost of living crisis. And it means a government that does what it can to defend workers’ fundamental right to unionise and continues to invest in the Wales Union Learning Fund

While the UK Government continues to fail workers with its broken promise of an Employment Bill, we look forward to working with Welsh Government to deliver this vision for stronger social partnership.