The future of work came under the spotlight at the Fairness at Work conference.
Business transformation, wage regulation, unpaid and low pay issues at work, precarious work, worker participation, Equality Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) in the workplace.
These were just some of the array of workplace issues that were covered during the fifth Fairness at Work conference.
Academics from both home and abroad presented a range of their very latest research findings into workplace issues. For instance, during a session on precarious work Valeria Pulignano, a Professor in Labour Sociology at the University of Leuven, discussed the rise of ‘unpaid’ labour time which was becoming particularly more prevalent among the self-employed.
She said the concept of precarious work has not changed in that it still refers to insecure work that is unstable and low paid.
However, what is new are the conditions under which people undertake this kind of work. “Changes in state policies and labour markets, new technologies, new forms of worker organisation, and demographic changes all impact in terms of people undertaking more and more work, working much longer, and having more intensified work.
“For self-employed people what we have also noticed is that there is less autonomy and freedom in the prices they can charge. People talk about more freedoms under self-employment forms of contract, but our research shows that this freedom is lacking. People are free but in fact incapable of making decisions and are not empowered.”
People talk about more freedoms under self-employment forms of contract, but our research shows that this freedom is lacking. People are free but in fact incapable of making decisions and are not empowered.
Kevin Daniels, Professor of Organisational Behaviour at the University of East Anglia, joined a session on why inequalities within workplace health and wellbeing matter.
As he explained: “A lot of the academic literature looks at wellbeing as being an average in the workplace rather than looking at the deviations from that average. There are good reasons for examining what happens at the tail, and what the implications are for the majority in terms of motivation and productivity in the workplace.
"How you treat people at the margins actually tells you quite a lot about how the rest of the people in the organisation are feeling and how productive they might be as well.”
He added that on the positive front there was now a large public debate about inequality, which was also intertwined with the wider political debate around levelling up and “where and why that should happen”.
“It is important to lay out a strong scientific case for fairness and equality. What businesses and employers can do to reduce inequalities is an important debate to start having.”
From our point of view, with a global dimension, we can also use opportunities like this to learn about practices in other countries because the nature of our members’ work means they could be working for a UK producer but based in another country.
Jane Bekoe and Rebecca Sobodu made a presentation from the Royal College of Midwives about the Race Matters project which they have been carrying out over the past year. The project has involved talking to midwives, students, maternity support workers, and lecturers about their lived experience in the union.
The RCM has introduced a Race to Lunch workshop for members where they can engage, network and share best practice, while it also runs awards for Race Matters unsung heroes and awards for EDI (Equality, Diversity and Inclusion) heroes.
As Rebecca explained: “These are people who have been working really, really hard but not been recognised for the work that they have done as EDI champions or as Race Matters champions.
“It has been really good for us to present our project to the WEI at this conference and get the academic perspective on things that maybe we haven’t looked at, and look at how we can collaborate with researchers."
CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition 2023
Meet our team on 8–9 Nov at Manchester Central to learn how we can support your professional development.
Matia Tapia, an Associate Professor at Michigan State University, spoke about her research around worker voice. "I am particularly interested in intersectionality, or how worker identities come into play when they are collectively acting against an an employer, a city, or a government."
She said the conference was an excellent platform to bring together scholars from across borders to talk about very contemporary and important issues. "These include issues around labour, around Covid and work, around EDI, and also issues around fairness at work."
Fair access to work
Ian Manborde, Equalities and Education Officer at Equity, gave a trade union insight into the struggle for equal treatment across the entertainment industry.
Equity is the UK trade union for creative professionals such as actors, singers, dancers and choreographers, and has 47,000 members working across the UK and globally.
As he explained: “I was invited to give a presentation on our work on improving member opportunities on fair access to get work and equal treatment in work. There was also an element in my plenary where I focused on our more political work which relates to improving representation across stage and screen in relation to class, race and gender.”
He added that the opportunity to spend two days in close study around these issues was a perfect learning opportunity. “From our point of view, with a global dimension, we can also use opportunities like this to learn about practices in other countries because the nature of our members’ work means they could be working for a UK producer but based in another country. This opportunity to look at comparative employment policy and practice is so important for our union."
Sheena Johnson, Professor of Work Psychology and Wellbeing at at the Work and Equalities Institute, said: "We were delighted to return to an in-person event for the fifth Fairness at Work conference. We had more than 100 people travel to Manchester to present, learn about and discuss issues relating to all four themes of the WEI, with a total of 61 presentations and four keynote speakers over the two days. We are already starting to think about planning our next conference."
If you want to join the Work and Equalities Institute, be added to its mailing list, or sign up to its newsletter, go to wei.manchester.ac.uk.