To celebrate the Charter's 2nd Anniversary, we hear from Ian MacArthur, Director of the Good Employment Charter.
A Reflection of the Charter, its Success & Future
The Greater Manchester Good Employment Charters Supporters’ Network was launched on the 22nd of July 2019 – two days before Boris Johnson took up residency at 10 Downing Street as Prime Minister. It is incredible to think how much the world has changed since that warm and sunny Monday morning two years ago. The spectre of Brexit loomed large and the uncertainties surrounding ‘deal or no deal’ created an atmosphere where many employers battened down the hatches to ensure they survived the inevitable impending turbulence. However, it was an entirely different storm that was brewing and by the time the Charter launched its Membership criteria in late January 2020, it was the dark and foreboding clouds of the Coronavirus pandemic that were forming on the far horizon. This changed everything.
When the Mayor developed the notion of a Good Employment Charter for Greater Manchester, it was in recognition that despite its underlying economic strength, there were issues with the quality of work in the city that we could not leave to the national government to address. With more than a fifth of jobs in the city region paying less than the Real Living Wage, it was clear that for many people, wages were not meeting the basic cost of living. Low levels of accessibility and inflexible work led to an unacceptable lack of diversity in our workforce. Coupled with an increase in short term, insecure, low paid work, we were facing a situation where productivity would suffer, and moreover health and social inequalities would grow.
The Charter was developed, with a broad range of stakeholders, as a voluntary initiative to create a ‘movement’. A movement where employers could come together and learn about good employment practice and share their experiences. An initiative where excellence from all sectors could be driven, celebrated, and recognised and where a sense of continual learning and the pursuit of excellence could be developed in a trusted and supportive community.
The Charter Supporters’ Network has been pivotal in building the good employment community. The early days saw networking meetings, where stories, experiences and business cards were shared over coffee and pastries. Although the pandemic has forced us to deliver through the virtual world, this has also provided an opportunity for the Charter to develop topical content, support and new ways of engagement. We have now held over c.30 events/webinars since the launch of the Supporter’s network attracting a total of well over 7,000 engaged participants. The Charter has also published more than 68 blog post articles highlighting topical issues or innovative practice. And to top it off, series one of the Charter’s podcast Good Employment Chatter was released earlier this year with eight episodes. Analytics show that the podcast landed in the top 35% of SME podcasts.
The pandemic has undoubtedly affected the degree to which the Charter could engage with prospective new Supporters' and sectoral representatives. However, over the past twelve months the Charter has grown over 125%, reaching over 450 employers. Including; 180+ Charter Supporters' covering in excess of 230,000 employees and now 29 full Members'. And as we emerge from the restrictions that have stymied so much, we are beginning to see a greater engagement and understanding. The principles of good employment matter more than ever and employers begin to realise the central importance of building their organisations around the wellbeing and development of those they employ.
The dial has changed and the world the Charter operates in is considerably different to the one it was originally designed for. The flexibility that has been built within it will allow the Charter to become ever more relevant to address the challenges ahead.
Earlier this year the Greater Manchester Independent Inequalities Commission (IIC) concluded that unless we can make good jobs and decent pay the norm for every person in Greater Manchester, we cannot get to grips with inequality. However, the Commission noted that the city-region has good and unique foundations to build on and the Charter already has impressive scale and reach and great potential to go further. In particular, the Commission welcomed the Charter’s efforts, in partnership with the Equality Panels, to enhance our focus on equality and diversity, ensuring that employers implement good equalities practices. This will remain a constant in our work moving forward.
But the IIC also noted that Covid-19 demands that we redouble our efforts. In addition to rising unemployment, the crisis is already exerting downward pressure on the quality of existing jobs. Supporting the creation of good, decent paid jobs, and resisting the pressure to settle for ‘any job is a good job’, will be critical during recovery from the pandemic and the Charter will play its full role in this process.
Even more recently the Greater Manchester Marmot Review reflected that to ‘build back fairer’ the Charter offers important ways forward for improving the quality of work in Greater Manchester. But that those efforts to achieve improvements in the seven employment characteristics must be focussed on SMEs, low-income jobs, the gig economy, and large employers. These are challenges we welcome and are ready for.
Finally, the Charter’s interim evaluation report recently published by Manchester Metropolitan University concludes that Greater Manchester has succeeded in developing a functioning Good Employment Charter, which manages to strike a balance between different objectives, and has taken account of the views of a range of stakeholders. There are of course areas where refinements will need to be considered, and the second stage of the evaluation will give a clearer picture of the strengths and weaknesses a year on. However, the report reflects that the Charter has been successful in engaging a good number of organisations and that there are emerging signs of positive impacts on employment practice and wider organisational benefits.
It is heartening to know that the Charter is making the difference it was designed to. Thanks must go not only to the dedication and professionalism of colleagues in the Charter Unit and the GMCA, but also to the fantastic range of stakeholders who form the Charter’s Board for their support and guidance throughout. However, the Charter is nothing without the employers who make up its Supporters' Network and Membership. Your commitment and willingness to share freely for the benefit of all ensures that the good employment movement maintains momentum and will ensure Greater Manchester becomes a beacon in the country for good jobs and fair pay.