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

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

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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”.

(www.smith-institute.org.uk/file/Making%20Work%20Better%20Prospectus.pdf )

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