Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union
Show Hide image

Prospect’s manifesto for good work: why politicians must act

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

All is not well in the world of work, despite the economic recovery. GDP has only just returned to the 2008 pre-recession level. Productivity and real wages have both fallen, with employment growth mainly in low-paid service sectors.

As a politically independent trade union, Prospect does not tell members how to vote. But in the run-up to the election, we believe any political party aspiring to government should have a compelling vision of what good work looks like, as well as a programme to deliver it.

That’s why we have drawn up a manifesto of ideas spelling out what good work is, and what politicians need to do.

The union consulted with its members across the public and private sectors, and has conducted dialogue with employers, professional bodies and other labour market experts. We would like to hear more politicians addressing this core agenda. Good work should not be optional and key components should include:

The UK has one of the worst records among OECD countries for using skills at work effectively. The quality of working life continues to deteriorate, both in the public and private sectors, with rising levels of stress and mental ill-health.

People want to do work that is enjoyable, stretching and fulfilling, and they want their families and communities to have these opportunities, too. When Prospect consulted its own members, people identified four priorities for improvement:

  • giving employees a voice
  • fair pay and reward
  • better management of change
  • engagement and respect of employees.

As pointed out by think tank The Smith Institute, which is conducting its own inquiry into making work better, over the last 30 years “there has been a decline in the level of control people experience at work, the extent of their ability to participate (both individually and collectively) in decision-making processes and a consequent decline in the level of trust in senior managers”.

( )

The same organisation has found that worker voice in the UK is at a woeful level – one of the poorest in Europe. Only Lithuania is worse.

Low pay and zero-hours contracts are totemic issues, and parties’ policies on these issues provide a clear signal of political values and motivation.

But more is necessary. The world of work is complex and diverse. A coherent and comprehensive policy framework is needed to complement responses to particular issues.

Politicians who think that they already have policies to underpin a good work culture should shout now, because our members certainly haven’t yet heard them. Frankly, all parties have more to do.

For example, we want politicians to commit to reforming corporate governance to give greater emphasis to and accountability for the long-term implications of decision-making.

The government as an employer should lead by example in relation to its own directly employed staff. Public procurement policies must improve supply chain practices, including investment in high quality training and skills and a decent working environment.

We want politicians to work with government departments, companies and other stakeholders to devise measures of good work; give them equal weight to the financial metrics that currently predominate; and mandate corporate reporting on this basis.

We would also like to see a commitment to legislating for works councils, which help promote genuine collaboration and consultation on strategic decisions.

We invite all politicians to set out their vision of a good workplace and a good job, and to be prepared to debate that vision in public.

There are two compelling reasons why they should do so: first, Britain needs more good jobs in high-performing workplaces to rebalance the economy. Second, driving positive change at work is without doubt a vote-winning agenda.

Sue Ferns is director of communications and research at Prospect trade union

Photo: Philip Hardman
Show Hide image

Sunset views and new dawns at the New Statesman Labour conference party

On the first night of conference, a wide variety of MPs, thinktankers and journalists gathered for the annual NS party. 

The New Statesman's party has become an institution at Labour conference, kicking off proceedings with a healthy dose of intrigue, networking and (this year at least) great sunset views over the English channel. Sponsored by Hitachi, it featured a headline speech from Chuka Umunna, one of the "refuseniks" who declined to serve under Jeremy Corbyn in his shadow cabinet. "Unfortunately the shadow business secretary can’t be with us, so I’ve been asked to say a few words instead," he began.

Umunna also spoke emotionally about some of the tensions in the party between Corbyn supporters and the centrists. "I was very disturbed earlier at the Demos fringe which I was speaking at, to have a new member who joined the day after the general election and considered themselves to sit on one part of the Labour spectrum telling me that they feel they cannot say what they think about the future of the party, and how we should make our Labour values real for fear of being castigated and accused of being a Tory," he said. "We have to draw a line under that kind of behaviour in our party."

See below for a few selected pictures from the bash, which was attended by all wings of the party - and a few other familiar faces.

Copies of the New Statesman released before the Labour's conference

Recent issues of New Statesman analysing Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping

Leaflets advertising fringe events hosted by New Statesman

Drinks waiting to be served to guests

The Times's Tim Mongtomerie arriving at the party

New Statesman political editor George Eaton

New Statesman Staggers editor Stephen Bush chats to Lewis Iwu

Stephen Kinnock MP and LBC radio host Iain Dale

Eddie Izzard talking to Nick Pearce, who has just left the think-tank IPPR

Former Labour MP Jacqui Smith

Labour MPs Tristram Hunt and Simon Danczuk

BBC's Daily Politics reporter Adam Fleming

Former Labour MP Hazel Blears talks to Jacqui Smith

Eddie Izzard with shadow education secretary Lucy Powell

Labour MPs Wes Streeting (left) and Toby Perkins (centre)

BuzzFeed's political writers Jamie Ross (left) and Siraj Datoo (second right)

BBC's Daily Politics host Andrew Neil and Sun Westminster correspondent Harry Cole play up for the camera

Sonia Sodha, former political adviser for Ed Miliband and now leader writer at the Observer

New Statesman editor Jason Cowley with Labour's Liam Byrne 

Guests enjoying the party

Jess Brammar of BBC's Newsnight (centre) talks to Schools Week editor Laura McInerney (right) and reporter Freddie Whittaker

Labour's Tristram Hunt MP (centre) and Lord Glasman (right) talk to Nick Pearce

New Statesman's deputy editor Helen Lewis introduces the speakers

New Statesman's editor Jason Cowley

Hans Diems, group public affairs officer at Hitachi

Labour MP Chuka Umunna 

All photos are by Philip Hardman.