Time for a radical rebalancing of the ownership models

Nisreen Mansour, Policy Officer for Wales TUC, looks at the role co-operatives could play in creating good or fair employment conditions.

See this page in: Cymraeg

Late last year I was part of a discussion about ‘fair work’ in the hospitality and tourism sectors. Industry representatives were keen to stress that there was little that could be done – there was basically no headroom to make work fairer in their sectors. The margins were simply too tight, the business models didn’t allow for it.

This line of argument managed to shut down discussion pretty quickly on the day, but it’s really influenced our thinking about how we can recover from the devastating economic impact of Covid-19. Many politicians are talking about the need to ‘Build Back Better’. A good starting point would be agreeing that public money should not be spent propping up business models built on unfair and exploitative employment practices, and focus on how to meet the challenges set by the Fair Work Commission. 

We’re also conscious that some workers – including many self-employed people – were in a very precarious position before this crisis struck. Recovery interventions need to consider how their jobs can become more secure, using the limited levers we have in Wales.

And this means that it can’t just be up to the state. As unions, one feature of fair work is particularly important to us – collective voice. For us, it’s both an aspect of fair work in it’s own right but also the key mechanism for delivering it. Determining what good or fair employment conditions look like – whether that’s pay, job security or workplace policies – can only really be done if the collective voice of workers is heard. In sectors with the poorest quality employment, we typically see the lowest levels of collective voice too.

Through the Economic Resilience Fund, the Welsh Government has ensured that thousands of employers are now signed up to the principles of fair work. The next phase of recovery needs to go one step further to actually build fair work into business creation and distribute wealth and ownership more equitably.

In sectors which may truly need rebuilding, of which tourism and hospitality are likely to top the list, we think that a radical rebalancing of the ownership models may be the best way forward. One model stands out in terms of really getting to grips with fair work, too. Union co-operatives are co-operatives which are unionised from their inception, meaning that the collective voice of workers is integral to the organisation. Effectively, fair work is inherent to the business model. Collective bargaining is introduced from the outset, meaning that employment conditions can be determined fairly, but also that common challenges – such as environmental impact – can be addressed in line with the values of a just transition.

We know that there has been plenty of work in this area already, and over the coming weeks we’ll be exploring how and where this model could work best for Wales. Please get in touch with any examples you’d like to share, or ideas about how this could be delivered.

This blog is published as part of a series for Co-operatives Fortnight 2020. Let’s build back better together. #KeepCooperating.

Nisreen Mansour Wales TUC


“Union co-operatives are co-operatives which are unionised from their inception, meaning that the collective voice of workers is integral to the organisation.”

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