If you’re reading this from outside of Wales, you may not have heard – but the Welsh world of work is about to be transformed. The Welsh Labour government, Welsh trade unions and others have worked together on ‘Fair Work Wales’, a landmark policy package that seeks to use the power of devolved government to improve work. Partly through legislation – the Social Partnership Bill soon to be introduced in the Senedd – and also by embedding the simple value of better work at the heart of how government behaves.
This is an ethos that the Welsh Labour government has long-held but, lacking control over employment rights, has not been able to implement directly. Instead, it is using the powers it does have creatively and strategically.
Labour’s First Minister, Mark Drakeford, will personally chair a Social Partnership Council that includes trade unions as equal partners with employers and government. Agreements reached by the body will become statutory and impose a duty on public bodies to put fair work at the heart of new, ethical procurement policies. Trade unions will also have a legal mechanism to enforce breaches of those policies.
This legislation will do what Tory governments in Westminster systematically refuse to do: use the power of public spending to drive up standards and conditions for workers. As a trade unionist, I have long fought against public money being used against our interests.
No longer will Welsh citizens see their taxes end up lining the pockets of bad employers, or allowed to fuel a race to the bottom in pay, terms and conditions. Their collective contribution will fund fair work and decent rights. Much like the ‘Preston model’ in local government, it’s about how the devolved administration can invest in decent Welsh jobs and the fairer Welsh economy through local action and local decisions. It’s not been an easy path, nor a short one. It’s taken political commitment to reach a shared vision of what can be achieved when we all work together for the greater good.
Imagine the possibilities if we had a UK government with the same vision as Labour’s leadership in Wales. We’d see no more companies like Carillion leeching off the taxpayer, then leaving us to pick up the bill when it all goes belly up. They would no longer rub their hands together at the prospect of winning outsourced contracts if they couldn’t make their profits on the backs of poor wages and insecure terms.
Only a Labour government will offer similar policies at UK level. They seem radical, but only in comparison to a status quo that the Tories want people to believe is inevitable. That is why the successes of Labour here in Wales, as well as our local government leadership, are so important. As an English Labour MP, they provide not only a template for what could be achieved if we devolved power within England, but real world examples that stand in stark contrast to the Tories’ record.
Our message can be clear. The alternative we offer is both credible and practical. What we have now isn’t inevitable or unchangeable. You don’t have to take what you’re given. Just look at what can be achieved.