Fair work in the foundational economy: what should be done

ReportsResourcesJuly 1st, 2021

Fair work is a priority of the new Welsh Government. But how can it make a difference without powers over employment? 

This report brings together the key findings from engagement with workers and employers in three sectors of the foundational economy, along with analysis of key data and a review of evidence of effective interventions.  It finds poor quality work is widespread, and includes low pay (sometimes below the legal minimum), high levels of work intensity (often without legally-required breaks), significant job insecurity and considerable work-related stress and illness.

To achieve its objective of greater fairness at work, the Welsh Government along with others will need to take concerted and bold action. This report makes recommendations for interventions in addition to the introduction of legislation on social partnership.


Overall approach

It is critical that the overall approach to fair work is right and that it builds on the expert conclusions of the Fair Work Commission.  We recommend that:

  • The Welsh Government implements the Fair Work Commission’s recommendations in their entirety as a matter of urgency.
  • The Fair Work Commission’s definition of fair work be included in all future Welsh Government policies and legislation that affect employment.
  • All organisations receiving public funds should be required to work towards fair work practices and to be able to demonstrate they are doing so.
  • The proposed social partnership council establishes sector agreements which set out minimum standards and mutual responsibilities of employers, worker organisations and government.
  • the Welsh Government adopts a whole system approach to fair work, co-ordinated through an Office for Fair Work located in the First Minister’s office.

Fair work through business support

The Welsh Government could use its economic development powers to help drive up job quality.  We recommend:

  • Extending the Economic Contract to funding provided by the Development Bank for Wales and to all Business Wales support, including support for tourism.
  • Expecting local authorities, city deal bodies, county joint committees and other bodies that support businesses to apply similar fair work obligations.
  • Establishing a ‘fair work innovation fund’ to encourage improvements in job design.
  • Agreeing minimum standards of fair work recognized by sector-specific accreditation e.g. ‘Fair Work Retailer’.
  • Establishing local or regional sector networks to enable employers to work together to increase fairness at work and improve management practices.

Fair work through learning and skills

Workers with skills to do the job are more productive while managers with human resources training treat workers fairly and in compliance with the law.  Workers who are aware of their rights are more likely to report abuses. We recommend that:

  • Wales TUC and Welsh Government establish an ongoing ‘know your rights’ campaign, targeted at young people in or about to enter the workplace.
  • The Welsh Government should require providers of work-based learning (traineeships and apprenticeships) to ensure learners know their rights and have the opportunity to join a trades union.
  • Personal Learning Accounts should include a minimum core of learning opportunities and that they are part of a defined progression pathway so that learners can move on.
  • The proposed sector groups should explore incentives for better management training and investigate introducing degree apprenticeships in management.

Fairness when workers are sick

Workers face severe pressure if they are ill from the combination of inadequate or no sick pay and tough sickness absence targets. Some workers attend work, putting the public and clients at risk. We recommend that:  

  • The Welsh Government explores the use of its public health powers to provide adequate compensation for sick workers in high-risk occupations / sectors.

Fair work towns and communities

Local action can play an important role in increasing fairness at work through their leadership and setting of voluntary standards.  They also provide local services that support workers. We recommend that:

  • Public service boards increase ‘fair work’ through local action, including becoming Living Wage places, use of responsible procurement, and working with local businesses.
  • The Welsh Government should reform its childcare offer so that:
  • childcare is available from nine months of age and is open to parents who work short or irregular hours, who are seeking work or who are in training;
  • gaps identified in holiday and after-school care are filled.
  • Funding for non-commercial bus services that serve routes to and from places with large numbers of low-paid workers is increased.

Fair work through worker action

Workers themselves, and their representative organisations, can and should take action either individually or collectively. Many workers simply leave poor quality jobs, while collective organisation and bargaining is a highly effective way of improving conditions.  We recommend that:

  • Sector forums should establish progression pathways, with employers, employees and training providers working together.
  • All bodies in receipt of public funds should allow unions to access workers.
  • Sectoral agreements establish ways to grant unions access to workplaces.
  • We recommend that the trades unions develop virtual environments where workers can exchange experiences and build solidarity.

Report format: PDF

Language: English

Pages: 26

Cost:  Free



Search and filter the archive using any of the following fields:

  • Choose Type:

  • Choose Focus:

  • Choose Tag: