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School of Environment, Education and Development

How far can voluntary employment charter initiatives tackle local employment issues?

More than half (7.4 million) of the people in poverty in the UK are in working families, writes Ceri Hughes, Research Associate in the Inclusive Growth Analysis Unit (IGAU), and Emily Ball, Policy and Advocacy Officer at Oxfam.

Concerted action is required to address this, but one way to begin is working with employers to raise employment standards and expectations around what constitutes decent work.

Local employment charters are voluntary initiatives that set out good employment practices and recognise employers that adopt them.

Some local authorities have developed their own, including the Salford City Mayor’s Charter for Employment Standards and the Oldham Fair Employment Charter.

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

Employment charters may help to achieve a more inclusive labour market that offers more people the opportunity to take part in rewarding, well-paid work, bringing both economic and social benefits. This underpins 'inclusive growth', a form of economic growth that creates opportunities for all and distributes the dividends of increased prosperity fairly across society.

Voluntary employment charters

Local employment charters can encourage and support employers to change their practices and drive up standards, and, therefore, inclusion. They can provide direction, tools and resources for employers. This can make headway in outlining fair and decent pay and employment conditions, recruitment practices, employee engagement and investment in training and development.

“More than half (7.4 million) of the people in poverty in the UK are in working families.”

However, there are limits to what they can achieve. Usually voluntary initiatives, they tend to engage directly only with a small number of employers. The commitments usually only cover current and potential employees, leaving out a company’s supply chain (the Living Wage accreditation scheme is a notable exception).

Achieving organisational change is challenging, particularly where there is a limited resource to support business engagement. Many charters offer 'incentives' and an accreditation process to encourage engagement. But if poorly resourced and not promoted and monitored, their credibility diminishes.

For a Greater Manchester employment charter to be successful, adequate consideration should be given to its design, implementation and review process. But by learning from the strengths and understanding the limitations of existing charters, Greater Manchester could really test the potential of voluntary employment charters.