Today in Wales 24% of people are living in poverty, and most of those people are women. Women are consistently over-represented in low paid, part time, insecure and temporary work. Women face a double burden of poverty and discrimination, and continue to be paid less than men, even at the top, often struggling to find roles that allow them to earn a living while also coping with the lion’s share of domestic work and childcare.
Oxfam Cymru commissioned three discrete but interlinked pieces of research looking at decent work for women in Wales, and each brings a distinct perspective and set of recommendations to the table.
The Institute for Welsh Affairs, in collaboration with Building Communities Trust, undertook a qualitative research project exploring the experiences of low paid workers in Wales. The research highlighted a number of recurring themes from participants: the challenges of balancing work with caring responsibilities, in particular childcare; the importance of job satisfaction and work being worthwhile; pay and working conditions being of fundamental importance; and the value of interpersonal relationships and a good social environment at work. The research explores in detail participants’ positive and negative experiences of work, and the factors that make up ‘decent work’.
Dr Claire Evans, of Cardiff Metropolitan University, conducted an in-depth literature review on in-work poverty and the search for decent work for women in Wales. The review offers a range of recommendations, including: the Welsh Government establishing a body to improve working conditions of low-paid workers; the Welsh Government using its procurement policy to influence employer behaviour; the Welsh Government supporting, encouraging and funding employer cooperative enterprises, especially in the provision of childcare and elder care; and the Welsh Government educating employers to understand the benefits of providing mothers with the right to return to the same job with reduced hours.
Chwarae Teg undertook a qualitative research study exploring decent work and barriers to progression for women in the domiciliary care and food and drink sectors. The two sectors which provided the focus for this work are likely to grow, and yet remain characterised by low-paid, poor quality work that offers limited opportunities to progress. The report highlighted that perceptions of these sectors is at odds with the reality of working in them. The perceived low value of the work done in these sectors continues to drive many of the challenges that must be dealt with to secure decent work, including low pay, insecure contracts, high turnover of staff, recruitment and retention challenges, and limited investment.
The evidence that women face additional barriers in accessing decent work is clear, and it is timely that the Welsh Government has established its ‘Fair Work Commission’. The Commission’s role is to make recommendations to promote and encourage fair work in Wales. This will include developing measures of fair work, and identifying whether new legislation is needed. Given that poverty rates in Wales have remained largely unchanged in a decade, the Fair Work Commission must be ambitious. The Commission must put decent work for women at the heart of its efforts. Wales’ First Minister has publicly stated his commitment to having a feminist government in Wales – and this is a crucial step on that journey.
We know that fair and fulfilling work is key to tackling poverty in Wales, and we stand ready to support the Welsh Government’s Fair Work Commission, and it is crucial that women – their voices, experiences and needs – are at the heart of these efforts.
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