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Taking action on local employment issues: how far can voluntary employment charter initiatives take us?

As the Greater Manchester mayoral election approaches, a key issue on the candidates’ agendas is raising employment standards across the city. Greater Manchester Poverty Action has been working with Ceri Hughes from the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit and Emily Ball from Oxfam GB to examine the role that local employment charters can play in addressing labour market issues such as low-paid, insecure employment. Here, our co-authors Ceri and Emily summarise some of the points of our paper, which you can read here.

What is a local charter?

Local employment charters are voluntary initiatives that set out to describe good employment practices and to recognise those employers that adopt them. A number of local authorities have developed their own employment charters, including Salford and Oldham.

There are some clear reasons for focussing on employment standards in the city region. For one thing, 23% of the jobs done by the residents of Greater Manchester are paid less than the Living Wage and by 2020 the Resolution Foundation estimates that 1 in 6 workers in the region will be on the minimum wage. Meanwhile, 180,000 working-age people have no qualifications which can make it difficult for them to enter and progress in work.

Employment charters may help us to achieve a more inclusive labour market that offers more people the opportunity to take part in rewarding, well-paid work, thereby addressing many causes of in-work poverty.

The impact of voluntary local action on employment standards

Local employment charters can encourage and support employers to change their practices and drive up standards. The charters can provide direction, tools and resources for employers interested in offering good employment as well as helping to establish a standard. This can make some headway in outlining fair and decent pay and employment conditions, recruitment practices, employee engagement and investment in training and development.

However, there are limits to what they can achieve. They are usually voluntary initiatives and tend to engage directly only with a small number of employers. The commitments also usually only address the issues affecting current and potential employees, leaving out those people working within a company’s supply chain. (The Living Wage accreditation scheme is a notable exception and has been promoted through some employment charters.)

Maintaining momentum and pushing for organisational change is challenging, particularly where there is limited resource to support business engagement. Many charters offer ‘incentives’ and an accreditation process to encourage engagement. Some require businesses to sign up to the charter to access council contracts or, in one example, to access a business rate discount for small employers. But regardless of the incentives, charters must be well resourced and regularly promoted and monitored.

An employment charter for Greater Manchester

We argue that for an employment charter for Greater Manchester to be successful, due care and consideration needs to be taken when making choices about its design, implementation and reviewing process.

Recommendations include:

  • Establishing a dedicated independent working group to co-design the charter, with representatives from local authorities, businesses, workers and their representatives, and other stakeholders and experts;
  • Being clear on the expected impact; setting out deliverable and measurable commitments and showing how the charter fits within a wider agenda for inclusive growth;
  • Balancing flexibility, rigour, and incentives for businesses across different sectors to increase engagement;
  • Ensuring robust monitoring is built in along with the resource that is required to support business engagement and accountability.By learning from the strengths and understanding the limitations of existing charters, Greater Manchester could really test the potential
    of voluntary employment charters.
Ceri Hughes, IGAU for Employment Charter article for GM Poverty Action

Ceri Hughes from the IGAU

Emily Ball from Oxfam, W&W article for GM Poverty Action

Emily Ball from Oxfam

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