“Thank you, Deputy Presiding Officer. I welcome this opportunity to update the Senedd on the valuable work we are doing in social partnership in order to realise our ambition for a Wales of fair work. The past year has changed the way that we look at almost everything in our daily lives, including the world of work. And it has brought into ever sharper focus the challenges that already existed in the workplace alongside a reinforced appreciation for the workers that have kept us going, day in, day out during the coronavirus pandemic.
This Government absolutely recognises that the vast majority of employers have done right by their workforce, supporting them and taking steps to keep them safe. But, unfortunately and unacceptably, we know this has not been the experience of all workers. Coronavirus has exposed and amplified entrenched inequalities in the workplace. And as we take the road to recovery, it’s crucial that we do not allow challenging economic conditions to provide the fertile ground within which unfair work can take root and spread. It’s not just about building back better, but about choosing the route that best enables us to forge a fairer future together.
The Welsh Government is committed to putting into practice our priorities and ambitions for a fair work Wales, using all the levers at our devolved disposal to help realise fair work outcomes, and we have made good progress in the past 12 months.
The Welsh Government has established the social care fair work forum, bringing together trade unions, employers and the Welsh Government to chart a course towards fairer work in the social care sector in Wales. Never have we all been more aware of our incredible social care workers and the work they do than during the coronavirus pandemic. The forum has quickly established a number of task and finish groups to address issues around pay and progression, collective bargaining and ensuring a safe, healthy and inclusive working environment.
Recent progress on COVID workplace protections has been enabled by the work of the health and safety forum. Considerations around workplace health and safety have been radically altered by coronavirus and the national forum was established in the autumn to provide a way for trade unions, the main employer bodies from the private and public sectors in Wales and the relevant UK enforcement agencies to come together to share their collective experience and work together to enhance workplace health and safety in Wales. The changes we have made together to regulations and guidance will not only help keep workers safer, but our communities and country too. They are testament to what can be done when Government, trade unions and employers work together in social partnership.
There’s never been a more important time for workers and employers to be aware of their rights and responsibilities at work. Against the backdrop of the pandemic and on the back of a key recommendation of the Fair Work Commission report, the Welsh Government has teamed up with our social partners, the Wales Trades Union Congress, the Federation of Small Businesses, CBI, Chambers Wales and other key partners in Acas and Citizens Advice, to launch a campaign in December to strengthen knowledge and understanding of workplace rights and responsibilities. The campaign reinforces our support for widening access to trade unions and the benefits of employers and trade unions working as partners in a spirit of collaboration, shared commitment and mutual respect. Likewise, employers also need to be supported, and through the campaign, we are connecting employers across Wales with the support and advice they need to comply with the law.
We are also building relationships with UK agencies to improve networks, intelligence sharing and our own capacity to influence non-devolved policy. This approach is already paying dividends. Our work with Acas has seen them deliver additional free digital briefing sessions for employers and workers in Wales. This has linked into our campaign to help awareness of workplace rights and responsibilities.
Working across the Welsh Government, we are exercising the power of the public purse and our social partnership approach to promote fair work practices across both the public and private sectors, using levers such as the economic contract and the code of practice on ethical employment in supply chains. The challenge now is to strengthen the implementation by improving our reach and ability to both drive and support behavioural change.
It is right that we measure that which we value. And working with our social partners, we are developing a set of indicators that we will use to measure and track a range of fair work outcomes in Wales. For example, this includes tracking the proportion of the workforce earning at least the real living wage.
Finally, we are strengthening the social partnership approach that has been an important and established feature of our devolved politics and economy. Working in partnership has become the Welsh way of doing things and social partnership is a key way in which we can collectively improve public service delivery, and ensure fair work and wider social and economic well-being. Later this month, we’ll be consulting on a landmark draft social partnership Bill, which will strengthen and promote social partnership, take forward fair work outcomes and achieve socially responsible procurement.
The pandemic has meant we have all had to change the way we live and work. This is no time to let up, let alone roll back workplace protections. As recommended by the Fair Work Commission’s report, we are actively engaging with the UK Government to defend and promote Welsh interests. Any erosion of workers’ rights is unacceptable, unnecessary and damaging, and we are holding the UK Government to its promise to protect workers’ rights following Brexit. After all, a race to the bottom on workers’ rights is not in the interests of workers, businesses nor the broader economy. Safe, secure and rewarding work is not just in the interests of the individual but industry too. It doesn’t just make a difference to the workplace but to the Welsh economy as a whole. A better deal for workers will mean a stronger recovery for our communities and our country. That’s why this Welsh Government remains committed to working towards fair work in Wales, not solely in principle but in practice, working together in social partnership to make a lasting difference to lives and livelihoods.”