Future of Work and Devolution in Wales Report: Workers need change

An independent report on the Future of Work and Devolution in Wales by Professor Jean Jenkins of Cardiff Business School has been published

11 Jan 2024| News

  • The report calls for sweeping changes in how the Welsh Government approaches work and the enforcement of labour rights in Wales. 
  • It also recommends a Minister for Work position to be created in the next Welsh Government Cabinet and that trade unions establish a working group on the practicalities of devolving employment rights.    
  • Exclusive polling of workers in Wales by Opinium Research for the report finds that workers are evenly split on whether employment rights should be devolved – with younger workers supporting devolution but older workers opposing it.  
  • Unions in Wales will agree a new position on devolution at the Wales TUC Congress in May.

The Wales TUC has published the final report of its Future of Devolution and Work in Wales Commission.

Written by Professor Jean Jenkins of Cardiff Business School, the report sets out the case for the Welsh Government to better use the levers it has to support workers in Wales – through investment in enforcing rights at work, new partnerships with UK labour market enforcement bodies, greater transparency, and training.

Professor Jenkins details the challenging realities of work in Wales in an economy characterised by low unemployment but also high rates of economic inactivity, job insecurity and wages that have been stagnant for 15 years.

She also highlights the real weaknesses of the current enforcement of legal rights at work in Wales. Just £10.45 is spent on enforcement for each worker and labour market inspectorate bodies’ capacity ranks 27th out 33 OECD countries.

The report concludes that a focus on devolving employment rights alone is unlikely to result in significant improvements for workers unless it followed extremely careful planning and was accompanied by increased funding. Professor Jenkins recommends that unions in Wales establish a working group to look at the practicalities of devolving employment rights in detail.

Workers’ Views

Polled by Opinium Research for their views on the devolution of employment rights, workers in Wales are evenly split – with 45% believing the Welsh Government should have control and 44% thinking they should rest with the UK Government. There is a generational split in the data – younger workers are significantly more likely to support Cardiff controlling workers’ rights while older workers support control staying at Westminster.

In contrast, there was stronger support for devolution in policy areas such as health, education, and economic development.

Professor Jean Jenkins, Professor of Employment Relations at Cardiff Business School, said:

My report is an honest assessment of where workers stand in Wales in 2024. For far too many their experience is characterised by insecurity, stagnant wages, and a labour rights system that provides very little real protection.

The reality is that many of the laws that are meant to support workers exist only on paper. Very few other countries have such weak approaches to enforcing rights and we need to prioritise change if the vision for a Fair Work Wales is going to become a reality.

I’ve outlined an ambitious set of recommendations that focus on what can be done here and now in Wales to improve things while also setting a route map for the practical work that would need to be done ahead of any further consideration of devolving employment rights to Wales.

My sincere hope is that our politicians, unions and employers all recognise the urgent necessity of reform.”

Wales TUC General Secretary Shavanah Taj said:

Professor Jenkins’s recommendations focus on radically reshaping working life in Wales – by investment in enforcement and pivoting the devolved state towards rebuilding the conditions necessary for workers to realise their basic labour rights.

We’ve been failed by a Conservative UK Government over the last 14 years that has no interest in supporting workers. Unions in Wales will reflect on this important report and will set out our position on further devolution to Wales at our Congress meeting in May.”

The full report can be accessed in English here and in Welsh here.