It's a stark contrast to Westminster's response to trade unions and workers.
Proposals for a ‘radical’ new law to ensure workers gain from economic growth have been unveiled by the Welsh Government.
Labour ministers have just published a White Paper for a ‘Social Partnership Bill’ that aims to change the relationship between workers and their employers.
Record levels of people in work have masked an alarming problem of in-work poverty, zero-hours contracts and widespread exploitation in Wales and across the UK.
Figures highlighted by Oxfam show that almost one in four people in Wales lives in poverty – about 700,000 people. That level of relative poverty has remained unchanged for decade – even while the economy is growing.
And despite unemployment in Wales falling from around 8% in 2011 to 4% in 2018, the TUC says around 400,000 of people living in poverty are working. The proportion of working age people living in poverty at 23% in 2017/18, according to figures from the Office for National Statistics.
The wealthiest 16% of people have as much wealth as everyone else in Wales put together.
It’s a similar picture UK-wide – a staggering eight million people are now living in poverty despite being part of a working family, according to the TUC.
The Welsh government are trying to get to grips with the problem through new proposals for a Social Partnership Bill, which will be consulted on. The White Paper proposes a shift to more ‘social partnership arrangements’ between government, public and private sector employers and trade unions in Wales.
The measures include: establishing a ‘social partnership council’ in law, placing a duty on public bodies to work in social partnership involving workers/unions, and requiring certain public bodies to produce procurement strategies that are line with statutory guidance.
First Minister Mark Drakeford – an ally of Jeremy Corbyn – said:
“Our workforce is our greatest economic asset in Wales, essential to driving our economy forward in a competitive, global market-place on the one hand and delivering essential public and voluntary services on the other.
“We have a strong record of working in social partnership across legislation, policy and investment…These proposals are the next step. They recognise there are many employers in Wales who fairly reward their workers, value their staff, properly engage the workforce in decision-making and invest in their development.
“We want to make sure these responsible employers are not disadvantaged when it comes to accessing public funds and that these practices are actively encouraged.”
The First Minister pointed to moves by the Welsh government already improving working conditions, including restoring sectoral bargaining arrangements scrapped by the Tories in agriculture, and introducing a ‘Code of Practice on Ethical Employment in the Supply Chain’.
The Unite union has previously welcomed the proposals, saying:
“This is recognition that our Labour-led Welsh government recognises the pivotal role that trade unions play within modern Wales. This approach is in stark contrast to the approach taken by the Tory government in Westminster, whose open hostility to trade unions is clear to see. The strongest economies across Western Europe all have formalised social partnership structures between trade unions and employers.
“With the challenges that the Welsh economy currently faces due to Brexit uncertainty it is crucial that our government has an official avenue through which the trade union voice is clearly heard. The Social Partnership bill delivered by Mark Drakeford’s administration will see this happen.”
Minister for Housing and Local Government Julie James added:
“This White Paper outlines proposals to strengthen our social partnership arrangements and deliver a renewed, more ambitious agenda for greater social equality that would be informed by the findings of the Fair Work Commission, which reported earlier this year.”
Following the White Paper, the Welsh Government has made a commitment to bring forward a Social Partnership Bill by the end of the current Assembly term in 2021.
Josiah Mortimer is Editor of Left Foot Forward. Follow him on Twitter.
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