Cause for optimism following The Taylor Review

11 July 2017

Whatever your political persuasion, The Taylor Review was probably always destined to disappoint some people in some way.  The response from the trade union movement in particular underlines the challenge it has had to bridge the gap on the key issue of the quality of employment for millions of workers on the front-line of our changing economy.

Once the heat has gone out of the response to the debate there are lessons for Wales and for the First Ministers’ Fair Work Commission. The Commission, announced in Carwyn Jones’ party conference speech in March 2017, aims to bring social partners together to make Wales a fair-work nation, ‘where everyone can develop their careers, and where we can all expect decent, life-enhancing work without exploitation or poverty.’  This is the forum to consider the lessons from the Taylor Report – and we suggest a couple of key areas for them to start with, primarily around the what is ‘decent’ and ‘life-enhancing’ work.

Firstly, the Commission needs to look closer to home and not fall into the trap of assuming insecure work exists only in the emerging sectors of the economy.  Research from Learning and Work Institute for the TUC shows the growth of insecure forms of employment in the residential care sector and in education, both of which are almost certainly a direct consequence of the squeeze on public finances and in case of the care sector is the ripple effect of local authorities passing cuts onto providers, who in turn pass them on to workers in the form of insecure employment.  The Welsh Government is already consulting on changes which would mean employers will need to offer workers in the domiciliary care sector on zero-hours contracts the choice of moving to a minimum hours contract after three months of continued employment.  The Commission should drill down further on the prevalence of insecure work across devolved public services.

The second area for attention is in-work progression and the importance of lifetime learning in a changing economy. The Taylor Report is right to make the case that access to education and training is a key pillar of quality employment.  It should also define what we understand by life-enhancing and should underpin the Welsh Government’s efforts to provide ladders out of low pay.  There should be access to flexible learning designed around the needs of learners, employers and sectors, and supported by a comprehensive, focused career progression advice service.  This focus can simultaneously help lift people out of low pay and close Wales’ productivity gap.  The Commission should look positively at proposals for Personal Learning Accounts and consider what more can be done to ensure fairness for older workers, who in five years will make up more than third of Wales’ workforce.

If the Taylor Report has been met with disappointment today, there is more cause for optimism for the Fair Work Commission.  It is built on a deeper tradition of social partnership but it needs to be clear about the need for change and prepared to recommend action.

  • Dave Hagendyk is Director for Wales at Learning and Work Institute