Over the past few years, as employment in the UK has continued to rise, there has been a shift in the focus of government and policymakers beyond merely the quantity of work in the economy, and now looking more closely at the quality of work. As a consequence, there is a lot of attention now given to ensuring people have access to 'Good Work'. This focus has come from all levels of government – central, devolved and local.
As part of this, CIPD North has been collaborating with Greater Manchester Combined Authority on their Good Employment Charter, developing Good employment standards and support for GM employers.
Ian MacArther Head of the Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter guest blog this month gives his views and reflections on the impact of good work and COVID-19 on the City Region.
The Greater Manchester Good Employment Charter has been working with its supporters and members to curate guidance, learning and discussion on key issues whilst we’ve all adapted and managed through the lockdown period. Now we are turning to how we live with COVID-19 and consider how we ensure good employment is not compromised through the recovery phase. This will be no small task as the inevitable large-scale levels of unemployment which will build over the coming weeks and months, can develop a ‘jobs at any cost’ mentality. Follow this path and we’ll be back where we started. So, it’s our duty to ensure that employers are supported and encouraged to invest and build back in a way that embraces good employment standards and practice as a way to help create a more productive economy and resilient workforce, and not one that is cheaper and even less secure.
Building Back Better
At the beginning of March, before many of us hunkered down in lockdown mode, - and toilet paper and hand sanitiser were being sold on eBay for exorbitant prices, - I set out in a blog post (2nd March), that good employment standards were fundamental to society’s resilience. Moreover, in the context of the impending impacts of COVID-19, they were essential to ensure public health.
What has transpired over the following fifteen weeks has been unparalleled, as our lives in almost every aspect, have adapted and changed to living with an indiscriminate viral pandemic. Unfortunately, it has also seen the UK race to the wrong end of the COVID-19 league table and has confirmed in many respects, that the we did not have the systemic resilience needed to deal with such a crisis.
Whilst there will be a hindsight debate and argument about whether we moved to lockdown too slowly, what became apparent very quickly was that to navigate and control the challenge presented by the coronavirus, we needed to rely on a front line workforce that were only weeks before referenced as ‘unskilled’ jobs but then transformed overnight into key and essential workers.
The acknowledgement and recognition of these heroes through the recent Thursday evening clapping does however ring a little hollow, when many of those placing their own health and that of their loved ones at risk, were employed on insecure contracts and barely minimum wage. Care workers, supermarket staff, security guards, delivery drivers, cleaners and the many others that kept our society functioning during these strangest of days deserve more than our applause and gratitude.
The patent unfairness of this situation is one thing, and it will hopefully lead to a reset of how, as a society, we value some of the jobs in the foundational economy, starting with the Real Living Wage. However, we also need to recognise that there is something deeper at work here. We cannot afford again to go into any future health crisis where low paid workers in the care sector or other public facing roles with insecure working conditions, will have to make decisions about their own economic security against that of their own health or that of those they care for or serve. To do so would continue to undermine our public health resilience and perpetuate intolerable inequalities.
Many have and will continue to do the right thing and heed the call to perform our civic duty during these times, but we must also make this the easy choice. The recent Public Health England Disparities Report highlights that the coronavirus has impacted some more that others and it is now apparent that COVID-19 inequalities follow many of the familiar inequities that have been beset the country for decades. Now more than ever, the promotion and development of good work across all sectors will be crucial to build back better and to root out discrimination and unfairness.
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