Summit 2020: Moving forward on labour market reform
As we draw to the close of this most turbulent year, we here at CLES are thinking about hope in the darkness and the prospect of local economic reform as we commence the long journey to Covid-19 recovery. In this spirit we’re sharing write ups of our policy breakout sessions from November’s Community Wealth Building Summit. First up, John Heneghan shares his reflections on our session on the role of labour market reform.
Our Summit session on Fair Employment and Just Labour Markets explored the need for labour market reform in the context of Covid-19. This wide ranging and thought-provoking session explored the potential for anchor institutions to drive community wealth building approaches to create a fairer and more equitable labour market through workforce initiatives, procurement and supply chain activities and employment and skills support.
“the labour market positives experienced in the early stages of the pandemic […] need to be locked in”
Mary Robertson, Senior Policy Officer at the TUC, argued that, while the labour market positives experienced in the early stages of the pandemic – a greater demonstration of the importance of key workers, the power of state intervention, the recognition that things can be done differently and the scope for home and flexible working. – need to be locked in, overwhelmingly the impacts of the pandemic on workers have been negative, creating huge challenges.
There are challenging strategic questions for all those seeking progressive labour market reform. To what extent will Covid-19 be the catalyst for more permanent structural shifts? How can this be harnessed to change things for the better?
Mary outlined the TUC strategy – a dual focus on the need to protect jobs and support workers through the pandemic whilst also creating the conditions for new and improved jobs in the green and caring economy of the future.
Trade unions have been prominently articulating the case for a community wealth building-led, pro worker recovery, focused on job creation, arguing for a job guarantee scheme that is guided by social need and built from a fundamental rethink of “what sort of economy do we want?”
“it can no longer be argued that government is incapable of intervening to protect people’s lives and livelihoods”
Issues of gender equality have come to the fore during the Covid-19 pandemic. The negative socio-economic impacts of the pandemic have disproportionally affected women, in particular poorer women, disabled women and women of colour. Conversely, the pandemic has also given us a sense of what is possible – it can no longer be argued that government is incapable of intervening to protect people’s lives and livelihoods. We have seen community care and kindness come to the fore. And it is clear now to all who the key workers are in the economy.
“investments in jobs in the care sector are three times less polluting than the equivalent investment in construction”
Marion Sharples discussed the work of the Women’s Budget Group (WBG), a network of researchers, academics, activists and campaigners working for a gender equal economy. Their Commission on a Gender Equal Economy focused on alternative policies which would promote gender equality in all areas of the economy and the Commission’s final report – Creating a Caring Economy: A Call to Action – was published in September of this year. The vision articulated in the report for the caring economy is one which encompasses gender equality, wellbeing and sustainability. Investment in paid care services would improve wellbeing by meeting people’s needs, it would improve gender equality by creating more jobs for women and it would improve sustainability – investments in jobs in the care sector are three times less polluting than the equivalent investment in construction.
However, the concept of the caring economy goes beyond paid care services. It looks more broadly across the economy and reconceptualises fundamental economic principles by looking at areas such as unpaid work, social security, public services, tax and the global economic and trade system.
Cllr Asima Shaikh, Executive Member for Economic and Community Development for Islington Council reflected on inequalities in the labour market, the value of the public sector and the important leadership role of local authorities in employment support and skills and their ability to positively influence local labour markets.
“At the start of the pandemic Islington Council, alongside the TUC, launched a “join a union” campaign.”
This includes clearly signalling what is important – valuing the protection of workers’ rights and conditions and their safety, especially during a pandemic. At the start of the pandemic Islington Council, alongside the TUC, launched a “join a union” campaign.
Islington was the first London local authority to be a Living Wage council. Over the past decade the Labour administration has implemented a systematic programme of insourcing various services which has had an important impact on the local labour market, not least as these employees are now paid the London Living Wage and the Council champions just employment conditions. The focus is now shifting to investigate the scope for insourcing PFI contracts and the launch of a new progressive procurement strategy, which embeds fair and just employment outcomes within procurement and commissioning strategies.
“view social care not as a burden but as a potential growth sector”
Islington is planning to recommission its social care provision over the next few years and recognise there is significant scope, if you view social care not as a burden but as a potential growth sector, to positively improve both employment and care outcomes. The care workforce in Islington is predominantly female, including BAME women, so the commissioning process needs to recognise this is an equality issue as well as helping to secure better employment for workers who are experiencing very difficult conditions.
A new area of focus for Islington, bringing together a community development and inclusive economy focus, is on the employment experiences of workers in the gig economy. This means understanding the experiences of workers in these sectors, aligning with efforts to ensure that workers are recognised as employees rather than self-employed and connecting people to adult learning opportunities.
This wide ranging and thought-provoking session was chaired by Tom Stannard, Corporate Director of Regeneration and Economic Growth at Wakefield Council and we’re extremely grateful for the input of our chair, speakers and our audience who brought the debate forward with a number of important and probing questions. We’ve left the comments open on this write up in the spirit of that debate – please do add your thoughts below on how we can move forward on labour market reform.