Where are gender and race equality in the Fair Work agenda?

Posted by Tessa Wright on 25 January 2023

Project researcher Dr Joyce Mamode presented a paper exploring the place of gender and race equality in the ‘Fair Work’ agendas in Scotland and Wales, at the University of Manchester’s fifth Fairness at Work conference, that took place on 23-24 January 2023.

The paper presented some early findings from the Buying Social Justice project research, examining how Fair Work has become an important policy agenda of both the Scottish and Welsh devolved governments, although each nation defines the concept slightly differently, as the presentation highlighted. Since employment law is a reserved matter that only the Westminster government can legislate on, public procurement is seen as a powerful lever for promoting fair work.

The commitment to decent and fair working conditions was welcomed by trade union experts interviewed for the project. As one commented in relation to the Building Fair Work in Construction report in Scotland:

[It] does push the government quite hard on what more it could and should be doing on procurement to use that leverage of being the big client more effectively to create positive change in the [construction] industry.”

However some equality experts in Wales and Scotland expressed concerns that a specific focus on protected equality groups – such as women and ethnic minorities who are under-represented in the construction sector – may be lost within the new political priority.

When you then look at what public bodies are saying about procurement, you see a lot of reference to Fair Work now and Fair Work is this umbrella banner for different things, apparently including the gender pay gap. But it’s so high level that it’s difficult to see what change it’s actually creating.

Nevertheless, the paper concluded that there is significant potential for gender and race equality to be included alongside considerations of socio-economic inequality in social procurement practice in the context of the Fair Work agendas in Scotland and Wales, especially when procurement and equality experts work together.

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