Beyond social partnership? Devolved levers to support trade unions in Wales

Think tank: Institute of Welsh Affairs

Author(s): Harry Thompson

February 16, 2023

This report from UK think tank the Institute of Welsh Affairs looks at the role of trade unions in helping rebalance the economy.

Months of industrial action have put trade unions in the spotlight, but despite some bright spots the trade union movement in Wales has still experienced a long-term decline. Young workers are not joining trade unions in sufficient numbers to replace retiring older workers; the trade union movement is non-existent in many parts of the private sector in Wales; and it faces an extremely restrictive regulatory framework that it is not in the gift of the Welsh Government to reform.

This report and others have outlined that the ‘cost of living crisis’ and decline in living standards in the UK and Wales are not entirely a temporary shock caused by high inflation in 2022-23. Instead, they are the culmination of over a decade of wage stagnation for low and middle earners. This is particularly pronounced in contrast to the countries that the UK would traditionally consider its economic peers, where this phenomenon has been more limited.

Contributing factors to this structural problem for the economies of Wales and the UK include a long-term decline in the labour share of income, inequality within wages, and a lack of productivity and economic growth. Our report highlights the role of trade unions in addressing these issues.