Janet Williamson: How can reward and CSR strategies contribute to the levelling-up agenda?

The government’s levelling up white paper, Levelling up the United Kingdom, was published in February. The first of its 12 missions is that, by 2030, pay, employment and productivity will rise in every part of the UK. Clearly, employers have a huge role to play in making this happen.

For too many people right across the UK, the link between work, security and opportunity is broken. More than half those living in poverty are in working households, reflecting the fact that low-paid sectors, such as retail and social care, are major employers in every area of the country. And the quality of work has a major impact on the nation’s health, with insecure work taking a huge toll in terms of stress and people’s mental and physical health. So levelling up will not work unless work is levelled up too.

Levelling up at work means that every job is a good job, with decent pay and conditions and a meaningful voice at work.

Firstly, employers should make sure that they are paying their whole workforce at least the real living wage. This must cover everyone who contributes to the organisation’s products or services, including, for example, cleaning and security staff, whose roles are often outsourced.

There is lots of evidence that the costs of higher raises are easily covered by reduced recruitment costs as turnover reduces and retention increases.

Employers should aim to employ their workforce directly, and to ensure that staff have guaranteed hours. This means reviewing their use of outsourced contracts, which often lead to lower pay for workers, and moving away from using zero hours and other precarious contracts. Making this change may take a little time, but will have a major impact on staff wellbeing.

Opportunities for training and progression are vital, and must be open to all, across the whole organisation.

Every worker should be able to work in safety and receive sick pay when they are not able to work.

On all of these areas, and more, employers should consult with their workforce and take account of their views and interests. The best way to do this is by recognising a trade union. Through their union, staff can engage with their employer collectively and anonymously, making it easier for them to express their views.

Research shows that workplaces with collective bargaining have higher pay, more training days, more equal opportunities practices, better holiday and sick pay provision, more family-friendly measures, less long-hours working and better health and safety. Staff anxiety relating to the management of change is lower. No wonder, then that collective bargaining is also linked to lower staff turnover, higher innovation and a greater likelihood of high-performance working practices.

Employers do not need to wait for the government; the time to level up at work is now.

Janet Williamson is senior policy officer at the Trades Union Congress (TUC)