Wales to launch new trade union rights

Wales' First Minister Mark Drakeford yesterday detailed the core principles of a new Social Partnership Bill to the Welsh Assembly, which will make it easier for unions, employers and government to work together to provide fair work and a strong, productive economy for all.

10 Jul 2019| News

Watch Mark Drakeford’s speech

His announcement follows the approval of a motion earlier this year that committed his government to the introduction of legislation that embeds social partnership into the fabric of Welsh life.

It also comes after the publication of recommendations from the nation’s Fair Work Commission, which were informed, in part, by the Institute of Employment Rights’ Manifesto for Labour Law.

Speaking in the Senedd, Drakeford praised the ongoing work between his government, unions and employers in Wales, describing this tripartite working as “crucial” to the effective governance of the nation.

“By coming together to discuss and collaborate, we solve problems and find solutions to the economic and social challenges currently facing Wales … meaningful tripartite involvement is fundamental to developing progressive outcomes and preventing conflict and dispute,” he said.

The new legislation, he promised, “will enshrine the current non-statutory social partnership model and ensure the agreements reached are clearly enforceable”.

Drakeford reminded the Assembly that Wales is in an ongoing battle to hold back the tide of austerity and anti-trade union legislation imposed by Westminster.

The Trade Union (Wales) Act 2017 went someway to reverse the effects of the Trade Union Act 2016, legislation Drakeford said was “designed to strip away the rights of public service workers”.

Now, a renewed focused on social partnership will trigger “new approaches and new actions to drive up the quality of work and access to employment rights” and ” deliver practical improvements in the workplace”, he said. This will include policies “designed to reverse the decline in collective bargaining”.

“The International Labour Organization (ILO), amongst others, has clearly articulated the role that collective bargaining plays in reducing inequality and extending labour protection,” Drakeford told the Assembly. “We fully endorse the principles set out by the ILO on collective bargaining and freedom of association and we wish to see these benefits extended to more working people here in Wales.”

To do so is ever-more urgent in a changing world, where modern working practices are undermining workers’ rights, he added.

“The advent of automation and digital platforms have proven how easily the burden of risk can be shifted onto workers without the protection afforded by conventional employment relationships,” he said, warning that “in-work poverty, false self-employment and compulsory zero-hour contracts have a corrosive effect on the health and wellbeing of too many people in Wales … these unfair practices serve only to deepen the existing inequalities in our society as those with the least power in the workplace are affected most.”

And it’s not only workers who are harmed by the deterioration of workplace rights. As Drakeford point out, “socially responsible and committed businesses” are “at risk of unfair competition” by unscrupulous employers and “tax-avoiding multinational organisations operating beyond our borders”.

The actions of the government to improve and protect tripartite working will “bring better outcomes for employers because with a committed workforce, encouraged by employers that invest in skills and good management at all levels, we can build a stronger and more resilient economy with improved productivity which is fit for the challenges of the future,” he said.

As well as new legislation, Drakeford announced that Wales will use “the power of the public purse” to encourage the spread of fair work across the nation. In order to be considered for public contracts, employers will have to meet minimum standards when it comes to the way they treat their workers.

He also promised to establish effective means of monitoring and enforcement of workers’ rights and collective agreements, enact the thus far dormant section of the Equality Act of 2010 that creates a duty on the public sector to promote socio-economic equality, and establish a “new machinery of government to underpin the work of social partners” – the Office for Fair Work.

“Together, the problems which face us all are best addressed,” Drakeford concluded.

More on this story at free IER event Labour Law and the Fair Work Agenda

Join us in Cardiff on Tuesday 16 July 2019 to find out more about about fair work in Wales from the academics, lawyers and campaigners who helped to bring the social partnerships bill to the Welsh Assembly.