Work and fairness

Work and fairness

Types of equality

The principle of equality of opportunity applies. Every worker should have genuinely equal prospects for advancement when looking for a new job or seeking promotion, regardless of their background. Every business should have equal opportunities in terms of access to finance and to markets, taxes and regulations, payments and so on.

The principle of equality of treatment also applies. Workers should receive equal pay for equal work, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, disability or other personal characteristics.

The principle of equality of outcome applies in terms of minimum standards. Every worker should be guaranteed minimum standards in terms of wages, job security, and working conditions.

Fairness and growth

As the IPPR’s Commission for Economic Justice points out: “A fair economy is a strong economy. It used to be thought that prosperity and economic justice were in conflict; we had to choose one or other but could not have both. The international evidence now points in precisely the opposite direction. A more equal economy generates stronger and more stable growth, lower social costs and greater wellbeing. Both economics and morality argue for an economy which achieves prosperity and justice together.”

The social contract

It shouldn't be possible for people to be working and yet to be unable to afford the basics needed for a decent quality of life, whether or not they have children and regardless of whether both adults (in two-adult households) are working. A society where the basic social contract that links hard work and a good basic standard of living has broken down is not a fair society.

Human rights

One aspect of the social contract is related to high living costs (housing, energy, food, childcare and so on), which fall outside the scope of this issue briefing. The core issue covered in this briefing is that all workers should be treated in accordance with the universal declaration of human rights*, with particular attention paid to wages (including minimum wage levels), job security (including zero hours contracts and 'fire and rehire'), working conditions and allowances (including leave and sick pay), equal pay for equal work (including gender, ethnic and disability pay gaps, and pay ratios), equal opportunities for jobs and promotions, and the right to unionisation.

* Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment. Everyone, without any discrimination, has the right to equal pay for equal work. Everyone who works has the right to just and favourable remuneration ensuring for himself and his family an existence worthy of human dignity, and supplemented, if necessary, by other means of social protection. Everyone has the right to form and to join trade unions for the protection of his/her interests. Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay.

Small businesses

There is also an issue of fairness from the perspective of small business owners, stressing the need for a level playing field for small businesses in terms of access to finance and to markets, taxes and regulations, payments, access to support from government and so on. The state should ensure that markets function in such a way that all businesses are able to compete fairly, for example by ensuring that the tax system is designed and implemented in ways that do not disadvantage domestic firms compared to international ones (or bricks and mortar firms compared to online, or small compared to big), by preventing the emergence of monopolies or cartels, by encouraging genuine productive enterprise and discouraging rent-seeking and financial engineering, protecting suppliers in their relationships with larger clients, and ensuring that banks are lending to credit-worthy businesses.

It is whole economies and whole societies that innovate and take risks. The mass of workers and citizens will be much more willing to embrace change if there is a decent safety net, social insurance, state activism to create employment opportunities and an education and skills system that will help them deal with the new demands that are made of them." He also suggests that “Britain's capacity to develop a more balanced economy, build companies enthused by business purpose, and dynamise its public sector will depend on a revolution in its human capital, which in turn must have its roots in a fair society… desert must be due and accorded those who have applied their talents, not prescribed through the good or bad luck of birth.

Will Hutton, Them and Us