Welsh Government commits to introducing Social Partnership Act this term

(Title Image: Rife Magazine)

In the first of two Plaid Cymru debates yesterday afternoon, the party tabled a motion to mark International Workers’ Day.

The Motion

The Senedd:

  • Notes the importance of International Workers’ Day and the role of trade unions.
  • Notes that Wales is lagging behind the rest of the UK when it comes to fair wages, with many people on wages 30% lower than the rest of the UK.
  • Believes legislation should be updated to: deliver ‘Fair Work’; protect workers’ rights and embed social partnership and collective bargaining into the fabric of Welsh life.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to ban the use of zero-hours contracts in devolved public services and associated supply chains.
  • Calls on the Welsh Government to commit to introducing a Social Partnership Act in the current legislative programme.

Wales should be “a fair work nation”

Leanne Wood AM (Plaid, Rhondda) backed TUC Cymru’s aim of making Wales a fair work nation. Despite falls in unemployment, this masked the reality of life for people at the bottom of the wage ladder:

“Around a quarter of jobs in this country were paid below the voluntary living wage in 2017, with regional variations. For example, one in five jobs in Caerphilly were low paid; one in three jobs in Blaenau Gwent were low paid. In 2016, roughly 17,000 jobs in Wales were paid below the statutory minimum wage. The Low Pay Commission found that the majority of underpaid workers are women, part-time, and hourly paid.”
– Leanne Wood AM

She was disappointed the Welsh Government had decided to “gut” Plaid Cymru’s motion and replace it with “another meaningless self-congratulatory statement, with wishy-washy words and a long kick into even longer grass”.

Shadow Economy Minister, Russell George AM (Con, Montgomery), tried to link low wages to devolution, with the gap in pay between Wales and the rest of the UK widening over the last 20 years. He rejected the idea zero hour contracts were somehow unfair as they provide flexibility, but there was broad agreement that workers should be empowered.

“In the period of devolution, we’ve seen successive Welsh Labour-led Governments taking forward a workers’ rights agenda, embracing social partnership, working towards a fair work nation, promoting collective bargaining, protecting and funding the Wales Union Learning Fund, abolishing zero-hours contracts in social care, introducing codes on ethical employment and procurement, establishing the economic contract, and, as already mentioned, repealing the worst elements of the vindictive Tory Trade Union Act here in Wales….”
– Dawn Bowden AM (Lab, Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney)

Helen Mary Jones AM (Plaid, Mid & West Wales) believed the Welsh Government were watering down Plaid’s call to ban zero hour contracts outright; people on zero hour contracts were twice as likely to work night shifts and are on average paid a third less per hour than other workers.

Setting the record straight

Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James (Lab, Swansea West), told the chamber Plaid’s motion was worded as “an attack” and the Welsh Government amendments “set the record straight”. While she agreed zero hour contracts were exploitive, the important issue was control – people sometimes need flexible working arrangements but should control that.

The Minister made a clear commitment to the future of workers’ rights (though much of it will be decided in London):

“….we have already….committed to introducing a Social Partnership Act this Assembly term in order to provide greater clarity about the authority of social partnership bodies. And, if and when we leave the EU, we will look to ensure there is no weakening of existing employment rights, that new trade agreements protect employment standards, and that future UK employment legislation keeps pace with progressive EU employment legislation.”
– Local Government & Housing Minister, Julie James

Vote

The government motion – which by and large said the same thing as the Plaid motion but in more friendly terms to the Welsh Government – was passed by 29 votes to 23.

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