Organised by the Institute of Employment Rights and TUC Cymru
About the Conference
The IER and the Wales TUC organised a joint public meeting in Cardiff to discuss the Wales Fair Work Agenda and the Institute’s Manifesto for Labour Law. The meeting came hot on the heels of an announcement by the First Minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford that his government would bring a Social Partnerships Bill.
Martin Mansfield, General Secretary of the Wales TUC, welcomed people to the event and said they were proud of what had been achieved in Wales and the direction of travel being taken by the Labour Government under Drakeford.
Carolyn Jones, Director of IER, then outlined a brief history of the IER’s work from Reconstruction after the crisis: a manifesto for collective bargaining in 2013, to the Manifesto for Labour Law in 2016 through to Rolling Out the Manifesto for Labour Law in 2018.
Carolyn then gave a brief summary of the 25 policy recommendations, drafted by 26 leading academics and lawyers and built around five main themes. First, a Ministry of Labour. Second the introduction of sectoral collective bargaining. Third, the introduction of a simple, universal definition of a ‘worker’ to end bogus self-employment. Fourth, improved rights from day one. And fifth, the introduction of a more robust enforcement mechanism via Labour Inspectors and Labour Courts.
She then updated the meeting on developments since the publication of Rolling Out, including a series of round table discussions with trade unions and the Shadow Labour Team to discuss how best to move labour law proposals forward under a new Labour Government.
Carolyn congratulated the Wales TUC and the Labour team in the Welsh Assembly for leading the way in their fight against anti-trade union laws, including their restrictions on the Conservative’s Trade Union Act, their maintenance of the Agricultural Wages Board and their current work around the Fair Work Agenda. She said she hoped the UK would follow the lead of Wales in these areas.
Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics at the TUC, congratulated Wales for not only aspiring to policy change but introducing those policy changes. She went on to outline the main aspects of TUC work in relation to Fair work and bargaining rights and said the TUC’s current paper sets out five main policy steps. First, the removal of the Trade Union Act and all the restrictions it placed on union activity; second, better access for trade unions to workplaces and to meet their members; third, simpler and stronger recognition procedures; fourth, the extension of issues negotiated at enterprise level; fifth, a means to ensure unions are better informed of any relevant issues before negotiations begin; and lastly, sectoral collective bargaining.
Kate concluded by saying that work should begin on this agenda before the election of a Labour Government. She praised the concept of the Fair Work Councils in Wales and said there was absolutely no reason why trade unions should not have representatives on the UK government’s Industrial Sector Forums.
Lydia Hayes, law expert at Cardiff University and an advisor to the Wales TUC on the work of the Fair Work Commission, started her excellent presentation by outlining the nature of labour rights, the international framework within which they operate and the need to recognise and adhere to fundamental standards. She then compared the popular proposals contained in the IER’s Manifesto with the policy initiatives being pursued by the Welsh Assembly. She noted that the Welsh government face some restrictions on what they can do due to constitutional arrangements around delegated powers, but noted their determination to improve employment rights and workers’ voice.
First, Lydia noted that Wales intends to create a new government department – the Office of Fair Work. Second, there are proposals for Fair Work Forums to feed into and inform the work of that Department. She noted a good start would be in the social care sector where the need for such an initiative is widely recognised. Third, Lydia outlined the work of the Fair Work Commission and plans to introduce a Fair Work Act/Social Partnership Act.
The final speaker of the evening was Mick Antoniw, Labour Assembly Member for Pontypridd. Mick outlined the need for change in Wales, noting that greater inequality leads to unstable societies and said people who felt they received no benefits from society would feel no loyalty. He noted the fast moving agenda in Wales and outlined some of the achievements made by the Labour Government, despite its limited powers and limited finances.
In terms of successes, he mentioned the retention of the Agricultural Wages Board, the Asbestos Bill and the refusal to implement aspects of the Westminster Trade Union Act. He mentioned the Social Care and Wellbeing Act, the Transport for Wales Act and the Wellbeing of Future Generations Act. He welcomed the election of Mark Drakeford as leader of the Welsh Labour Party and First Minister of the Welsh Assembly, and his determination to implement the socio-economic duty of the Equality Act, 2010.
Mick said that sectoral collective bargaining – referred to in Wales as the Social Partnership proposals – is the issue of the day and he was pleased that IER is working to strengthen the proposals. He said it is important that trade unions play a central role, adding that the amount of wealth generated is not the problem. The problem is how that wealth is being distributed and said trade unions are key to ensuring companies compete upwards, not spiral downwards. Mick ended by saying the Labour government in the Welsh Assembly has a two-year window, which they intend to use to introduce as much progressive policy as possible.
The speakers were then thanked by Geoff Shears, Treasurer of IER and Chair for the evening, who once again praised both the Wales TUC and the Labour Government in the Welsh Assembly for their groundbreaking work and promised that IER would continue to work with both in the interests of workers in the months ahead.
Chaired by Carolyn Jones, Director, Institute of Employment Rights
Kate Bell, Head of Rights, International, Social and Economics, TUC
Dr Steve Davies, Honorary Research Fellow, Cardiff University
John Hendy QC, Chair, Institute of Employment Rights
Dr Lydia Hayes, Reader in Law, Cardiff University
Mick Antoniw, Assembly Member for Pontypridd