For the most part, the hurdles and delays have been linked to external events – a general election, Brexit, Covid – but nevertheless as a trade union movement we’ve been impatient to see the Welsh Labour administration in Cardiff go further and faster with the powers that it has at its disposal to tackle poor employment practices, inequality, and to strengthen worker power.
This desire for change is driven in Wales by the same trends seen elsewhere in the UK and beyond: a decade of stagnant wages and the sharp growth of insecure and precarious work.
This Social Partnership Bill represents the most significant step yet in moving our Fair Work mission forward in Wales. It also ensures trade unions have a strengthened role in shaping the work of government and other public bodies to achieve that mission.
The ‘Social Partnership Duty’ in the bill is a welcome attempt to amplify worker voice in the decision-making processes of Welsh public bodies. The ‘Fair Work Duty’ should also go some way to cementing the principle of Fair Work within every relevant aspect of the Welsh Government’s actions by establishing a requirement on Welsh Ministers to work towards a fair work goal and a set of fair work objectives.
Setting an amended version of the existing Social Partnership Council – which brings together government, unions and employer groups - on a statutory footing is also a positive step. Since being established just over a year ago, the Council has provided unions and other social partners a direct route to securing action on a range of pressing issues: whether that’s stronger Covid safety workplace regulations, measures to tackle poor pay and conditions in the social care sector, or improving the financial support available to workers who have been impacted by the crisis.
Finally, the duties in the bill setting out new requirements for socially responsible procurement will strengthen the Welsh Government’s ability to leverage its £7bn annual procurement spend to drive change in the private sector.
Inevitably there are gaps in the legislation and provisions that we want to see improved as it goes through the Senedd. This is to be expected with a bill which dances around the edges of the Welsh Government’s legal competency.
Perhaps the most glaring omission is the lack of a definition within the bill of what the government means when it says ‘Fair Work’. Our contention is that if as a government you establish an independent commission of experts to look at defining Fair Work and they give you a solid definition then you should use it.
But overall, this Social Partnership Bill represents a real opportunity. It’s a real opportunity for workers in Wales to start to claw back some of the control that has been taken from them over the last forty years and it will enhance the ability of unions to make sure that workers’ voices are heard when decisions are being made.
The bill itself is just one part of the wider fair work agenda. We need the forthcoming elections to the Senedd to return a government that will prioritise the progression of this legislation and we stand ready to work in true social partnership with that government to deliver meaningful change for workers in Wales.