National Assembly for Wales

Y Pwyllgor Cydraddoldeb, Llywodraeth Leol a Chymunedau

Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee

09/05/2018

Aelodau'r Pwyllgor a oedd yn bresennol

Committee Members in Attendance

Bethan Sayed AM
Gareth Bennett AM
Janet Finch-Saunders AM
Jenny Rathbone AM
John Griffiths AM Cadeirydd y Pwyllgor
Committee Chair
Rhianon Passmore AM
Siân Gwenllian AM

Y rhai eraill a oedd yn bresennol

Others in Attendance

Alex Currie Cyfarwyddwr Adnoddau Dynol, GoCompare
Human Resources Director, GoCompare
Allison Thomas Swyddog Cysylltiadau Cyflogeion, Ffatri Foduron Pen-y-bont ar Ogwr
Employee Relations Officer, Bridgend Engine Plant
Dr Rachel Garside-Jones Dirprwy Gyfarwyddwr, Cyflogadwyedd a Sgiliau, Llywodraeth Cymru
Deputy Director, Employability and Skills, Welsh Government
Eluned Morgan AM Gweinidog y Gymraeg a Dysgu Gydol Oes
Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning
Ken Skates AM Ysgrifennydd y Cabinet dros yr Economi a Thrafnidiaeth
Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport
Marcella Maxwell Pennaeth Cynllun Gweithredu ar yr Economi, Llywodraeth Cymru
Head of Economic Action Plan Implementation, Welsh Government
Vicki Spencer-Francis Rheolwr Gyfarwyddwr a Sylfaenydd, Cowshed
Managing Director and Founder, Cowshed

Swyddogion Cynulliad Cenedlaethol Cymru a oedd yn bresennol

National Assembly for Wales Officials in Attendance

Chloe Davies Dirprwy Glerc
Deputy Clerk
Elizabeth Wilkinson Ail Glerc
Second Clerk
Hannah Johnson Ymchwilydd
Researcher
Jennifer Cottle Cynghorydd Cyfreithiol
Legal Adviser

Cofnodir y trafodion yn yr iaith y llefarwyd hwy ynddi yn y pwyllgor. Yn ogystal, cynhwysir trawsgrifiad o’r cyfieithu ar y pryd. Lle mae cyfranwyr wedi darparu cywiriadau i’w tystiolaeth, nodir y rheini yn y trawsgrifiad.

The proceedings are reported in the language in which they were spoken in the committee. In addition, a transcription of the simultaneous interpretation is included. Where contributors have supplied corrections to their evidence, these are noted in the transcript.

Dechreuodd y cyfarfod am 09:30.

The meeting began at 09:30.

1. Cyflwyniad, Ymddiheuriadau, Dirprwyon a Datgan Buddiannau
1. Introductions, Apologies, Substitutions and Declarations of Interest

Welcome, everyone, to this meeting of the Equality, Local Government and Communities Committee. Item 1 on our agenda is the introductions, apologies, substitutions and declarations of interest. Jack Sargeant has given his apologies for the first part of today's meeting, and Bethan Sayed will be joining us in due course. Are there any declarations of interest? No.

2. Ymchwiliad i Feichiogrwydd, Mamolaeth a Gwaith yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 7
2. Inquiry into Pregnancy, Maternity and Work in Wales: Evidence Session 7

We will move on, then, to item 2, which is session 7 of our inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work in Wales. I would very much like to welcome Allison Thomas, employee relations officer with Bridgend engine plant for Ford; Vicki Spencer-Francis, managing director and founder of Cowshed; and Alex Currie, human resources director of GoCompare. Welcome to you all.

Perhaps I might get us under way with a couple of questions to begin with. Firstly, perhaps each of you could give the committee an overview of the approach of your business to supporting employees during pregnancy and parenthood, and particularly parental leave policies. Perhaps we could start with Allison.

No problem. Ford are a very mindful company, and, working in the manufacturing industry, it is very heavily male-dominated. So, we have policies that try to attract more women into the workplace, because we do value diversity. We have a number of different parenthood policies. So, for instance, our maternity leave policy is 12 months' full pay. With that—

Yes, so 12 months' full pay. We obviously still have the keeping-in-touch days and people do come in and pop in, but our paternity leave is two weeks' full pay, and we offer parental leave, which is up to four weeks each year for every child that a person has, but that is unpaid. So, that's in addition to any statutory and contractual holiday that we offer. And we're also engaged in shared parental leave as well. So, there are lots of policies on offer to support anyone who's going through that. We have a number of flexible work arrangements in place, and a really positive statistic that we've actually started to look into, since we started monitoring in 2015, is that we have 100 per cent retention rate for any female employee who's gone off on maternity leave.

Okay. Do you find there's a good take-up rate from your male employees in terms of leave opportunities?

Yes and no—paternity leave, certainly. Parental leave as well is increasing year on year, as more people are more familiar with it, as we're running more sessions to work with the trade union to get that policy out there so that they understand it. So, that is actually more popular with our male employees than our female employees. Flexible work arrangements are still slightly more popular with the female employees, but more and more of the male employees are starting to engage with that now, so that they are able to drop the children off or pick them up. But because we have a lot of shift working, it's not necessarily as heavily required as it would be for someone in an office environment, working nine until five. So, the shift workers do have that flexibility anyway, but a number of the office staff do have flexible work arrangements as well.

Yes, okay. We'll return to some of these matters later, Allison, but thanks very much. Vicki.

Cowshed is incredibly different to Ford. We employ eight people; one of those is me, and we're all women. We've only been going for four years and, in that time, I've had one person go off on maternity leave, so I'm going to be giving my experience from that perspective. We're a very flexible organisation because we can afford to be, because it's our business and we've built it. So, we can only afford statutory maternity leave, though, and when my associate director went off last year on maternity leave, it did leave a massive hole. I think with small businesses, particularly, it turns out to be a bit like a wobbly table, really, and, you know, one of the legs gets a little bit shorter and it's a little bit unstable for a while. So, it was a difficult time, but we did whatever we could—keeping-in-touch days, which I'll go on to talk about a bit later with other questions, I'm sure.

We don't have any men in the organisation, so no need to talk about male parental leave. We'd like some men, don't get me wrong, but we're employing the right people for the right jobs, rather than—.

So, that's it, really. We're very, very agile. It's not exactly flexible working, it's agile working. So, now, Kate, who came back to work at three days a week, then increased that to four days a week—she does one of those from home, and, really, she works whenever she can or likes to get the job done, rather than strict hours. So, we're very flexible in any approach we take.

09:35

Could you just further clarify what you mean by 'agile working'?

She can work from anywhere she likes, whenever she likes. We treat people at Cowshed like they're all adults, if you like, and we can because we're a very small organisation. We are all a very passionate team. So, she works from home, or she works if she is in west Wales, and she can work whatever hours she really likes.

Hello. So, I'd say we probably sit in between Vicki and Allison in terms of the size of organisation we are. We've been running a diversity and inclusion programme for the last 12 months, and a lot of that is focused on family-friendly policies. So, all of our policies mirror each other, from adoption, shared parental and maternity. So, we do nine months' full pay, and if it goes down a shared parental leave route, dads can benefit from that as well. We've updated our paternity policy, so fathers get their two weeks on full pay as soon as the baby's born, and then they're given an additional two weeks on full pay to take throughout the year when they see fit, to support mum and baby.

When it comes to returning to work, obviously we engage in the keeping-in-touch days, but we are quite flexible when it comes to mums and dads returning to the workplace, be it reduced hours, flexible hours, or condensed hours. We're more than open to have discussions.

One thing that we've realised is that no one size fits all, so it's important for us to have that conversation with each employee as they return, to see what would work for them.

Do you find good take-up from dads, then, Alex, in terms of the opportunities that they have for leave?

We're starting to see more of it. So, we've held some workshops and, again, I think it's just that education piece. I'm not sure whether or not there's a stigma attached to it from a dad's perspective, that they take the time off. I think what we've found as we've gone through, since shared parental leave was introduced, was that it generally depends on who the main earner is in a household, depending on which one will take that leave.

Yes, okay. So, it's likely to be the one with the lower earnings, is it, basically?

Yes. Okay. One further question from me, really, and it's with regard to the Equality and Human Rights Commission survey of employers and employees. There seemed to be a disconnect, in that as much as 87 per cent of employers felt that it was in the best interests of their organisations to support pregnant women and those on maternity leave, while 71 per cent of mothers reported negative or discriminatory experiences. So, there seems to be a mismatch between the two findings—you know, the employers and those mothers being employed. Would you have any views on that, as to why that might be the case?

I spoke to Kate, who is at Cowshed, and we think the same thing, really. When she was off, she really felt that there's a bit of paranoia there about coming back to work and worry about coming into your role, and I think that can turn into fear and feeling like you're not being treated in the right way. So, we learnt a lot from Cowshed. So, over the year that she was off, I tried to not contact her very much to try and give her the space, but actually we realised that that wasn't really the right thing. She needed to be kept in touch, she needed to feel like part of the team and part of the family still, so that when she came back there wasn't that disconnect. That's what I think some of this disconnect is. Employers think they're doing the right thing, but actually potentially they're not talking properly to the people who are on maternity leave. So, that's where I believe the disconnect is.

09:40

I definitely agree with that, but we recognised that quite a while ago in Ford. So, when the female employee tells their supervisor or HR that they are pregnant, we agree a timeline of different areas where we will contact them, arrange for medical assessments et cetera, and during that time the HR person tends to agree a structured method of contact throughout that time. So, we are then able, a minimum of three to four months prior to an expected return date, to arrange flexible working so they can engage with us and get that agreed beforehand. We keep in touch with them just to see if there's anything that they need us to do. So, I completely agree with what Vicki said, but we acknowledged that a little while ago and then have worked and put a lot of work into making sure that disconnect isn't there.

The only other point I would raise, and it is quite Ford-centric in this, is that the females on the shop floor, if you will—obviously, I work in a factory, so they are the people who are the assembly operators, they assemble the engine—they are all a very close-knit group and they all support each other as well. Sadly, we have a bit of a gender gap then on the next step up, which is the supervisor level. Out of, say, 20 to 25 supervisors, there's only one female. So, they don't necessarily feel like they can talk to their supervisor about it because they're a man. So, I think having more female representation at those higher levels would also decrease any disconnect that females feel.

For me, if I was to become pregnant now, my supervisor is a female, and I'd be more than happy to talk to her, but my manager is male. Whilst he has a child, I wouldn't feel necessarily as comfortable talking to him about it. Whilst that's exacerbated in my role, the number of female employees on our shop floor has increased tenfold. So, that's going to increase any dissatisfaction percentage, if you know what I mean. So, I think whilst the communication is definitely pivotal, a lot of it is also having that representation of females in those higher levels of supervisors, managers, in order to increase that female-to-female connection, because it is something that men can engage with but aren't necessarily going to understand to the same extent as what a female is going to understand. 

I'd probably agree with Allie in that we went through a period where I think we started to think that the businesses thought they were doing the right thing, and it was only by engaging with that parental workforce that we actually started to get more insight into what would better support our employees. I think it's a mix of what Allie and Vicki said. There is that paranoia when people go off on maternity. I have somebody in my team who has been quite open about that. I suppose, as a manager, if you haven't been through that you maybe don't understand what they're actually going through and thinking.

So, from my perspective, and definitely from GoCompare, it's about understanding what our workforce want from the support and how we can best meet that. So, we, the same as Allie and Ford are doing, are working towards those plans of communication through work streams to understand: 'At what point will we contact you and what information do you want to be kept aware of?' Because I think, again, we've probably got the luxury that Allie doesn't in that we are relatively small so we can tailor that fit. Some people want to be kept in the loop on every change. Other people just want to be left alone and 'Contact me a month before I return.' So, it's all about tailoring those needs to what those individuals want.

Did you take any particular steps, Alex, to find out what parents wanted and required within GoCompare, or was it just sort of general conversations that took place over a period of time?

09:45

There are a number of ways that employees can speak to us. We do an annual engagement survey, so we had some feedback come through there. We had return-to-work inductions; again, feedback coming through from there. Then, we had a parenting workshop, where we invited anybody who was either a parent or expecting to be a parent to come along and just tell us what they needed from a parent perspective, so they could focus on the job in hand. I think that session was a real eye-opener and has fed into a number of work streams that we're currently working on to better support parents.  

Okay. Thanks very much. We'll move on to some other questions from Siân Gwenllian.

Bore da. Buaswn i jest yn licio mynd yn ôl at un peth wnaeth Allison sôn amdano, sef bod yna brinder o ferched ar yr haenau uwch o fewn eich cwmni chi—hynny yw, nad oes llawer o ferched yn arolygu'r gwaith nac yn rheolwyr. Mae hynny er gwaethaf yr holl bolisïau blaengar y mae'n ymddangos sydd gennych chi. Felly, mae yna rywbeth yn mynd o'i le yn fanna. Beth? Pam nad oes yna ddim—?

Good morning. I would like to return to one thing that Allison mentioned, which is that there is a shortage of women in the higher tiers of your company—that is, there are not many women who are supervisors or managers. That's despite all of the very progressive policies that you seem to have. So, there's something going wrong there. What? Why aren't there—? 

We are actually having a massive push towards this at the moment. I am one of the chairs of the diversity and inclusion committee in Ford Bridgend, and I then link with our central team in our head office in Warley. We are running a lot of different programmes at the moment; there is just a massive disconnect. I'm trying to centralise all of that to understand the key focus. So, we have identified two key focuses at the moment. One is disability, mental health and physical health in the work place; the other, then, is gender equality. So, within that, the committee is working on how to how to identify what those gaps are and why there is such a disconnect, because without understanding the 'why', you can't tackle it.

We do have one female supervisor. So, it's operators, supervisors, LL6 managers, LL5 then LL4. We have no female LL6 managers whatsoever, and none above that in the plant. In other areas—so, in our other plants, offices and locations—we have significant numbers of females there. But, there is an assumption that, because it's a manufacturing environment, the females don't necessarily feel like they have any role models to follow because it is so heavily weighted towards male employees in Ford Bridgend. It always has been. So, we are having an uphill battle at the moment, and I have just designed two different survey mechanisms to speak to the female workforce and understand whether or not they are happy in their roles, whether or not there are any barriers, and why it is that they don't want to progress, if that's the case.

We are also now engaging with Chwarae Teg, who are going to come in and do a survey, and we are going to engage as part of their FairPlay area, and hopefully get some data that we can really drill down on and push those women forward. In our office environment, we do have two senior supervisors who are female, but that's not necessarily representative of the workforce. So, we want to understand why that is. That's where, hopefully, Chwarae Teg are going to help us get there. So, fingers crossed. I hope that answers your question. 

Sort of. What you're saying is that there are other barriers—there may be cultural barriers, as well as putting into place the policies that could encourage more women into the workplace and to progress in the workplace. There are other matters as well. There's no point just concentrating and thinking, 'Oh, if we give flexible working and do all that, women are going to progress.' What you're saying is that that's not the case in Ford. So, either your policies are wrong, or there is a cultural barrier to be overcome, as well as—

There is certainly a cultural barrier. Anecdotally, I have spoken to a couple of my female employees who have returned from maternity leave or who have been on maternity leave, as well as others just generally. Anecdotally, they have suggested that they are quite happy with the role that they are in. It's really challenging. Because Ford pays so well—. The salaries at Ford are significantly higher than anything else in south Wales, and that's at one of the lower levels. So, they don't feel like they want to progress and have that additional stress when their money's already really good. They don't need it. So, if then their partner—it's not that frequent—but if their partner then works in Ford as well, their household income is substantial. So, they're not feeling that push then to go up to that next level to get that increased salary and responsibility when they're quite comfortable with the salary that they're on in the role that they're doing. So, there is that as well, but you're not necessarily going to change that. I don't think they will like it if we give them a pay cut. 

09:50

No, no, absolutely not.

Symud ymlaen, felly, at y trefniadau gweithio hyblyg. Yn amlwg, mae hwn yn bwysig o ran rhoi cyfleon i ferched. A ydym ni'n deall—? Pan rydym ni'n sôn am drefniadau gweithio hyblyg, a ydy pob cwmni'n siarad am yr un peth, i dechrau? A ydym ni'n deall beth ydy'r diffiniad o weithio'n hyblyg? Efallai Vicki.

Moving on, therefore, to the flexible working arrangements. Evidently, this is very important in terms of giving opportunities to women. Do we understand—? When we talk about flexible working arrangements, are all companies talking about the same thing? Do we understand what the definition of flexible working is? Maybe Vicki.

You talked about agile working, for example.

I would say it's very different between a plant and a communications business, where we can pretty much, with a laptop and a phone, do our job from anywhere. My understanding of flexible working is that someone's got a job to do and they'll do that role in the time that they've got, whether that's three days a week or four days a week. We have core hours, nine to five, for example, but if people come in at eight and leave at four, that's really up to them. If they come in at 10 and leave at six, that's up to them as well. So, we're not that prescriptive about it. And I find that, in a very, very small team, where you have to work on a lot of trust, that works the best for us and it's certainly worked well for Kate coming back from maternity. And she's just about to go off again, so, she's working with us now and she's actually drawing up our maternity policy for us, really to talk about what works best from her point of view. But it will change as well. So, within Cowshed, flexible working will be different—one person might not want flexible working and the other might. So, we're just open to it. 

I think it needs to be led by the employee and I think the business's duty during that process is to try and facilitate, to the best of their ability, that flexible working arrangement. I can think back to maybe two or three years ago where we had never done condensed hours. The legislation allows you to trial something. If you trial it and it works, why not offer that to people? So, our approach has always been, wherever possible, let's support flexible working. And I think it's an important policy to allow parents, especially returning working parents, to fully feel like they can both have a personal and a work life, and that's the ethos that we try and have.   

What's in it for us? Engagement levels—that would be the first one. So, returning parents who have the ability to work flexibly are generally more engaged. I think companies who have a good flexible working policy are more attractive to potential employees. I think more and more, as we see different generations come into the workforce, flexibility, not just for working parents but for a whole new generation that's entering the workforce, is a key thing for them. So, I think workforces that are flexible and do have a good flexible working policy just make themselves more attractive to that talent pool.

And you say that there's a lot of shift work that happens in Ford, so the flexible working doesn't come into it as much as it would in a different environment.

It does and it doesn't. We have more hourly-paid employees, who are the operators. The salaried staff don't take up flexible working as much, which doesn't make any sense, because the office environment is easier to facilitate it. Our hourly population are 90 per cent of the flexible work arrangements. What we try and do, and it wasn't—. When the legislation first came out, it was very much, 'Yes, we have to do this; let's just give it to everybody—whatever they want', and it didn't really work for the business. So, then, the engagement level from the supervisors wasn't there, because they then found it quite burdensome to try and allocate the work, so what we did, when the team changed around in the HR department, was we looked at it from a bit more of a pragmatic sense, and now we move workers. If, say, for instance, someone wants their—. It's a three-week rolling shift pattern, so it's quite complicated, but if someone wanted three days off and the other person wanted the other two days off, we would put them on the same shift, so they would balance each other out. So, we would constantly have cover for that position, and then give additional training to make sure that they were comfortable to work in the same role. So, instead of having two people doing part-time, we've got two people doing one person's job full-time. That, then, works better for the business. There's a lot less requirement for additional pay for overtime and things like that, so we try and work with the employee, but also work with the business need, to marry up what we need in order to get the engines produced, if you will.

09:55

Outside of Ford, yes, 100 per cent you would call it a job share, but technically we don't call it a job share. It's just a Fordism.

Ocê. Yn symud ymlaen, beth ydy'r rhwystrau mae busnesau yn dod i fyny efo nhw o ran ceisio darparu gweithio hyblyg? Rydych chi wedi sôn am y manteision, ond beth ydy'r prif broblemau sydd angen eu goresgyn efo darparu trefniadau gweithio hyblyg, a sut mae dod dros hynny? Alex.

Okay. Moving on now, what are the barriers that businesses face in terms of providing flexible working arrangements? You've talked about the benefits, but what are the main problems that need to be overcome with providing flexible working arrangements, and how do we overcome them? Alex.

I suppose job share is the easiest one to cover that off. So, depending on the working environment, we would definitely find it more difficult, say, if somebody wanted to go down to three days a week, to have somebody then just coming in for two days. We'd need an overlap day for them to hand over work between each other, so there would be an additional cost that would come with that. I think that the other thing that we do find is that a lot of our roles—. We tend to work on a skeleton staff, so we're not highly populated with lots of people doing the same role. So, one of the things that we do find is that you would have to go out to market. You couldn't necessarily redistribute those responsibilities to other people within the team and hire another person in. You would need to find somebody on a part-time basis who had the same skill set and understanding of the role to bring in and upskill. So, there's also a timing element that, from our perspective, would come into it.

Yes, the cost, potentially, for us. So, if you're doing a job share, then there's potentially an additional cost for employing two people—two computers, two seats. It's as straightforward as that when you're in a small business like ours. And also having the manpower available to do the job in the daytime. People are there through core hours, of course, but when you've got a staff of eight and a couple of people are out of the office, then it's—

It's managing all that, making sure that you've got enough people.

That you've got enough people in the office, answering the phones—it just gets down to the brass tacks of that, really. Yes. But, we all communicate well as a team and will cover other people if people aren't in the office, so that's about communication for us. The main barrier to flexible working, even though we've not experienced that yet, will be cost, for people on reduced hours.

Yes, because you've still got the overheads and the pension—

You've still got the overheads, you've still got the clients who want the same job done, and you've still got to build your business. So, you still need to have the same amount of staff all the time. So, someone on three days a week—. Well, I've found, from experience, people on three days a week who have come back from maternity leave work just as hard as people on five days a week—absolutely—if not harder. Kate's an amazing person and an asset to Cowshed, but you do have those two days, then, potentially, when she's not there and there is a gap.

10:00

Of course, there's certainly a barrier, but from a slightly different perspective: we have quite high budgetary constraints in order to be a business that is attractive to other customers. So, we don't just produce in Bridgend; we don't just produce engines for Ford; we produce engines for Jaguar Land Rover. And in order to increase that amount of productivity in getting additional business, new business, we've got to hit very tight budgetary constraints. So, with not marrying up previously flexible work arrangements to complement each other as in a job share, it was the burden of additional cost to cover that work with overtime. Overtime is paid at a higher rate than an already very high basic salary. So, the more you have of that, the higher the cost. The overtime previously was through the roof, so what we've done is then married them up—tried to, at least—but sometimes it doesn't work like that. So, we do then have to put one of the group leaders who doesn't work on a station onto a station, and you then get dissatisfaction from that person; they can't do their other role because they're covering that person. So, sometimes it can be an engagement thing from the team members as well. So, that's more of a learning objective for us in ensuring that other people understand the benefits of it, rather than just seeing it negatively. So, that's been quite an interesting learning piece for us, but, again, it is cost, really.

Ie, ocê. Ond o dderbyn bod yna fanteision amlwg o drefniadau gweithio hyblyg, sut fedrith Llywodraeth Cymru, er enghraifft, helpu hynny? Sut fedrith y Llywodraeth annog cwmnïau i wneud mwy o hynny? Er enghraifft, a ydych chi'n credu y dylai hi fod yn ofyniad pan fydd Llywodraeth yn rhoi contract neu'n tendro am gontractau neu'n rhoi cyllid i fusnesau fod yn rhaid i'r cwmni gynnig trefniadau gweithio hyblyg? A ydy honno'n ffordd o annog y sector busnes i symud i'r cyfeiriad yma? Vicki.

Yes, okay. But accepting that there are obvious benefits to flexible working arrangements, how can the Welsh Government, for example, help that? How can the Government encourage companies to do more of it? For example, do you think that it should be a requirement when Government provides contracts or tenders for contracts or provides funding to businesses that the companies should have to offer flexible working arrangements? Is that a way of encouraging the business sector to move in that direction? Vicki. 

Cowshed recently were successful to get on the National Procurement Service framework, and we're delighted and it's doing very well for us. And, as part of that, we have to answer certain questions and criteria about sustainability, and I absolutely 100 per cent think it should be part of that requirement. Certainly, if we want Wales to be an agile nation, then we really should be requiring with Government spending that the businesses are treating their staff and looking after them and developing staff in the model that you see fit.

I agree with what Vicki said. It's difficult: if it becomes dictatorial, I have found that some senior management become reluctant then to engage, so it's about a cultural and awareness change and a natural buy-in to the benefits of flexible working. How that happens, I don't know. But, I think, in combination with a financial incentive, encouragement and an awareness, buy-in from senior managers would—in combination I think that would probably work, hopefully.

Yes. I think as soon as you make it a box-ticking exercise, it takes away what it should be, which is the right thing to do.

It's the right thing, but businesses are there to make a profit, aren't they? So, how do you change that? 

That's the million-dollar question. [Laughter.] It makes business sense, you know? We've talked about the benefits that we've got there. I think, yes, I would try not to be prescriptive with it, but I think if you are accessing Government funds or support, why not have that as a question alongside the others that are asked? It makes sense. If nothing more, it will stop people and make them think, 'Do we do this?' And hopefully the next question is, 'Well, why not?', if they don't. 

Or an incremental change, potentially. So, if it is a financial incentive for additional funds or subsidies, whatever that may be, the more a company does it, an incremental support. So, if they don't do it very much, for whatever reason, they get a smaller support level, and the more they engage with that, obviously it could increase incrementally. That could—whilst it's not necessarily doing it for the right reasons—start that chain of thought. Once then a company can see the productivity benefits and the engagement benefits, it may then spur on that chain of thought. 

10:05

Okay, thanks for that. We'll move on to Jenny Rathbone.

You are all a self-selected group of exemplars of good practice, and we salute you for that. Unfortunately, out there, it's a different world altogether. I just wondered whether—you presumably network with other organisations as part of your business. Do you think that it's a lack of information and advice for employers about rights and obligations during pregnancy and parenthood, or do you think it's just downright discrimination and they think they can get away with it, and generally they can?

I don't mind going first.

I think anyone who would suggest that there isn't enough information available to employers on what maternity, paternity and family-friendly rights there are is living in a different generation. There is so much resource available for employers at different levels that if they truly wanted to engage in those practices they would. Whether or not that legislation is necessarily the easiest to penetrate is another question, but if you want the support and the guidance there are definitely outlets out there.

Fine. Okay, so they're just ignoring the law in the main. You must hear things when you go to business meetings that may surprise you, but if you hear the testimonials we've had back from women and if you just go online, women are routinely discriminated against, and it seems to be okay.

From Cowshed's perspective, I think, yes, there's a lot of information around. The experience is the thing that really gets you to understand what you need to do and what you don't need to do. So, a year ago we didn't really know what we needed to do and it was Kate's first child and it was our first maternity, and so we've learnt together. And now she's helping and is absolutely going to be driving that maternity policy from experience. So, I also just think that there are some people out there who don't want to play by the rules and think that they can run their own business in their way and that might not necessarily be the right way.

Yes, I mean you're an all-women company. We know that male-dominated companies are where women suffer the most discrimination in terms of their job being eliminated while they're on maternity leave. These are things that are illegal, but they get away with it.

Absolutely. And I have heard stories about that in the industry that I'm in. On the whole, I think we are all trying to do the right thing, more and more so in the last few years. You can see that there's a real shift in attitude, in the main. But, yes, discrimination does still exist.

Okay. So, Ford, you're a large organisation with sophisticated human relations policies. Why is it that other organisations of a similar size are not understanding that there are huge benefits to treating their employees properly?

A previous employer of mine—. I was sat in an interview, and he asked—this was the managing director of the company—the young lady interviewing whether or not she was planning to have any children in the next 12 months, and on that basis was going to make a decision on whether or not to hire her. And that was through ignorance, but ignorance through choice. So, I went through that in detail of how discriminatory that attitude was and how, legally, he couldn't do that, but he didn't care. And that was one of the main reasons I left, but, I don't know—. I think some people are just wired differently, and certain companies attract people of a certain mindset. So, I went to work in Ford because it's a forward-thinking company and they want to do the right thing. Now, other companies aren't necessarily as forward thinking and are very much stuck—I don't want to say 'in the dark ages', but very much stuck in that way of thinking, where women should be the home maker, which is fundamentally wrong. I think the only way a couple of companies that I know have learnt is because the woman has stood up and actually taken them to a tribunal. It is that serious court application that has reiterated to them quite how wrong that is. Because it’s quite flippant to a lot of people—'Ugh, whatever'—but when it comes down to being grilled in a tribunal, they then come to terms with the fact of what they’ve done. It shouldn’t get that far, but unfortunately, in my experience, that is what has taken a number of companies to really realise quite how bad that is and quite how seriously that’s taken.

10:10

So, what do you think are the main things that need to change? Is it strengthening the law to give more powers to women? Because women who take their employers to a tribunal never get their jobs back. They might get some money in compensation, but they don’t get their jobs back. Or is it that there's insufficient representation for employees in the workplace? Is it just very, very poor industrial relations? Or is it just men not asserting their right to be a parent?

I don't think it's always men. I wouldn't say it's always men.

But the young woman in your example—I bet they didn’t ask that question to a young man.

No, they didn’t. In that process, they didn’t. I think it’s a combination. In answer to your question, I think it’s a combination of all of those things. I don’t think women really understand the legislation that they have to protect them. I think it’s a fear factor—that they don’t want to become unemployable because tribunals are in public records, and if they're associated with that they think that they're not going to get a job because they are willing to stand up. The cost implication of tribunals is a huge issue. There are so many different things, but the legislation, from a protection point of view for an individual, isn’t particularly clear, especially if you—. From a layman’s perspective, for me, I could read that and I would understand it because that’s my job, but there are a number of my friends that don’t understand it and don’t understand what that entitles them to. So, I think it needs to go down, really, more to a grass-roots level. At that point then, when you increase that knowledge base—they always say knowledge is power—women are more likely to stand up. It's that standing up and actually knowing their own worth that's going to make people turn around and think. And then, if they still do it, that’s when the court and the legislation come in to protect them. But I think, without the knowledge of what is there to support them, people don’t want to stand up.

Okay. Time is moving on. I think perhaps we’ve covered some of the questions that are due to be asked, and we'll move on to Gareth Bennett.

I've still got my ones on the size of businesses and differential—

Yes, later perhaps, then, Janet. If we just move on to Gareth now, and we'll come back.

Thanks. Yes, thanks for your evidence. It’s been very interesting. I don’t know how far you can all answer the next one, but what differences do you think there are in the experiences of parents in lower paid and more precarious jobs? So, perhaps, Allison, if you'd like to have a go at it first.

I’d have to talk about my experience outside of Ford to answer that question because, in Ford, the salaries for the lowest level positions are still probably about 30 per cent to 40 per cent higher than the average basic salary that’s paid in Wales. So, in my previous roles, I knew people that actively tried to ensure they didn’t get pregnant because they couldn’t afford to go on maternity leave because of the statutory payments. That is because they work for a company that could—. For instance, I used to work for DS Smith, a huge global conglomerate in the packaging industry. It still offers the very basic maternity package of statutory maternity. I knew several people in that company who actively wouldn’t try for children whilst working there because they couldn't afford to do it; the financial burden was too high. It was different, obviously, if their partner was slightly higher earning, but, for them themselves, they weren't comfortable doing that at that point. But that was a question of a huge company like that not engaging necessarily with a higher paid maternity policy. No-one was ever able to answer that question for me. So, that's my experience with a large company with a poor policy, but then, for smaller companies, similarly to what Vicki mentioned earlier, the cost implications of someone on maternity are huge. Companies can't necessarily afford to pay an enhanced package if they are smaller. It's whether or not there's any way of potentially supporting that, or increasing any support from the Government—I don't know—but certainly smaller companies that I've worked in can't afford to pay an enhanced contractual maternity package. So, it discourages from that perspective.

10:15

Thanks. I don't know if either of the other two panelists wanted to add anything to those words.

Not really. We've got a very basic maternity package because of the size of business that we are at the moment. I'd like to think that whether we've got an assistant, an officer, a manager or a director in the business, there would be no discrimination, because of the size of team we are.

I don't think I could offer much more than Allie.

Chair, just one small point on this. In regard to ethical companies such as yourselves, what is your view in regard to those major companies—sometimes big companies—that, for instance, may be operating on the edges of zero-hour contracts? Do you see that there's any divide between companies like yourselves and those, in very small, part-time positions, perhaps, who would be in the same position, as you said, in terms of your experience of working within a big company with poor practice? Do you see that there's a difference in more lower paid jobs? 

I can see that there probably would be in large organisations, potentially, because there's more of a churn of work, of staff, so, potentially, the relationships aren't being built. But I don't have experience of that myself.

Thank you. To turn that on its head a bit, across Wales we have huge diversity in terms of size of businesses, and, if you take my own constituency, we have a lot in the tourism and hospitality industry, the care industry—sectors that attract, naturally, a lot of women—sole traders, start-ups. So, they fit somewhere in between the three of you. What support can we give those smaller businesses? Because when we talk about flexible approaches and things, with the tourism industry, it's summer and winter, and there are all sorts of things that a sole trader would find quite difficult, in terms of if you've got two employees and one goes off, that's half your workforce gone. So, those sizes and different ranges of types of business, how can they be supported, maybe by Welsh Government, or by somebody to help them through—navigate their way through—what could become quite a complex issue for such small businesses across Wales?

Well, I think that what the Government is doing already—the 30 hours free maternity cover for three to four-year-olds—is great. However, I would like to see that brought forward to one-year-olds. I was very lucky with Kate, because she came back to work, but actually it could've been that she wasn't able to afford it. I was really there—she's my right-hand woman, she's my associate director—and, as I said, it was a very wobbly table for that year when she wasn't there. So, I think there are a couple of things: it's bringing that maternity pay, 30 free hours forward to one-year-olds, because of a number of things, not only because women want to get back to work, but industry changes quite rapidly, so people need to stay upskilled. We're working with Kate now when she goes off again to make sure she stays upskilled because the industry changes. People have to get back to work, and three and four years old is too late.

On the other side of the fence, in the seat I was in, I was picking up her workload as well. And we didn't have the income, necessarily, because of the six weeks of maternity pay at the beginning, and then the additional holiday days at the end, to actually recruit to her role. So, any sort of support—I don't know what it would be—from the Welsh Government to help stabilise businesses whilst we're supporting people in their maternity leave would be great.

10:20

Where you are aware that the piloting is going on for the three to four—? I don't if you know of where that's actually helping in any way.

I don't.

Where is it being piloted?

I'm still trying to find out more about that, you know, because, if we've got a scheme, it's got to be effective or we might as well go back to the drawing board.

Absolutely, there's a chance for the Welsh Government to lead the way across the UK by bringing that age forward. You know, like you've done with a number of other policies, it seems to be a quick, but costly, win, obviously.

And what, as you mentioned it earlier, kind of approaches should be taken to tackle unconscious bias—you know, there's conscious and there is unconscious bias—and discrimination at recruitment stage, promotion, and during any pay decisions? How can that be tackled?

So, with Ford, we are on a national agreement with the trade union in terms of anything to do with pay. So, that's quite a difficult one for me to answer. So, in terms of the pay, everybody's on the same pay, regardless. If you do the same job, it's the same pay, for everybody.

But, in terms of recruitment, we ensure that all our adverts are diverse and inclusive—the wording—and we work with a central team to ensure that anything, particularly external, engages with all forms of protected characteristics. So, we hire regardless of race, gender, and it always does that. That's a pure standard.

In terms of the interviewing, in order to be able to interview someone, internally or externally, people have to do, complete and pass mandatory training on how to conduct interviews, and, within that then, that tackles unconscious bias. Certain roles, then, also have additional online training that they have to complete, which is surrounding unconscious bias and discrimination.

So, we are a very active HR team to make sure that our managers understand it, and I've run four training sessions now, trying to get all the supervisory group involved in how certain comments can be perceived. And discrimination isn't necessarily how you mean it; it's how it's perceived, and that was an eye-opener for them. They didn't understand that perception could still be discriminatory. So, again, it's about raising awareness as well. But we are—the trade union wouldn't let us get away with it, anyway, not that we would—quite progressive in our thinking to try and tackle things proactively rather than reactively.

I don't know whether or not you were aware, but there were some race difficulties in Ford in Essex back in the 1980s, and ever since then the company has really learned a lot of lessons from that and made sure that everybody, regardless of race or any differences, is treated exactly the same, and anything that is brought to our attention is tackled very, very early. So, we are quite proactive on that front.

All of our managers go through unconscious bias training. All of our job adverts go through gender-neutral software—so, it highlights any male- or female-dominant words, and they're neutralised. We have diversity statements in place within all of those ads. We are moving now to blind CVs, so any name, religious details, university that they attended, anything that indicates whether or not they're a parent, will be removed from the CV so that the hiring managers just see the skills. And we are also moving to a pre-interview check-in, where they are reminded of what unconscious bias is and the top five tips on how to avoid that, because unconscious bias is unconscious, so they need time to flick into the conscious mind to remember that that is possible. If you look at some of the studies that have been done, processes where managers are reminded of unconscious bias before the actual interview takes place are 10 times more likely to have a more diverse workforce. So, yes, there's a lot that we're doing in that space.

10:25

I'm going to take some tips off Alex. [Laughter.] Sounds excellent. I think that small businesses like me could do with going into GoCompare for a day or so and really understanding how to do this better. We're all women, so there's some bias there. [Laughter.]

Okay. Thanks for that. We'll move on to some final questions from Rhianon Passmore.

Thank you very much. I'm very interested in what you said, in Bridgend, for Ford in regard to the fact that you've got 100 per cent retention after pregnancy, which is no mean feat. I'd be interested in the ratio of women to men; you've already inferred that it's small, compared to that. And I'm also very interested that there is that cultural issue that you've mentioned, which you're trying to tackle in regard to overcoming the gender pay gap in terms of vertical progression in the organisation. So, I'd be very interested in your surveys when they come back. In regard to my question, then, what is your view, individually, really, on the calls for retention rates for maternity to be published in regard to the spotlight that's now on this issue nationally?

Anything that brings someone's focus to it can't be a bad thing, is my personal opinion. Ford—I think, as a company, we would be quite proud to show our figures. Particularly in such a male-dominated factory, as we have in Bridgend, to have that much of a statistic is amazing, really.

It is. But, in that regard, it's also very interesting that there is that gap that you yourself identified in regard to that gender pay gap and that vertical progression. So, does this go far enough as a call for a spotlight and a call for action, perhaps? Do you think there should be more than that?

I actually do, and I mentioned this. This is part of the diversity and inclusion committee discussion that we're having very soon, and it's something I'm raising to the national table—that the gender pay gap figures that Ford, and every other company, have produced, because of the size of the organisation, averages it out. So, because we have so many sites across the UK, they are averaged out. Now, Warley, for instance, our head office, is predominantly office staff. So, when you add those together with our female figures and then don't look at the gender pay gap, it's actually very, very equal, so there isn't a gender pay gap in Ford. However, if you took that a step further and you looked at that from a more detailed perspective in the vertical progression opportunities, and looked at the male/female split on that, there is a significant difference there that suggests that the statistics could not be as accurate as what people assume, in not just Ford, but everywhere. So, I think, yes, a drill down on that would be fantastic.

Okay. So, in regard to that focus, for Ford, there is obviously work to be done. You mentioned the term 'home maker' earlier, and I think that has probably something to do with it. Have you got any comment on the call for the publication of maternity retention rates?

Well, I think it would be helpful if it's played against how flexible that business is so you can really understand the benefit of flexible working and the return to work—so, if there's a parity there. So, if we've got higher maternity retention rates, people coming back to work, if there's more flexible working and what the benefits are on offer at that business—it would be good to understand that in a bit more detail.

I think, with anything like that, you need to be careful. We had—if I think back to last year—three ladies who were off on maternity. Two of them left and didn't return after maternity, but that was because they'd set up their own business through skills that were directly attributive—that they'd gained whilst in employment with GoCompare. We're still very much in touch and they offer a service to GoCompare now through their business. So, I think, provided that it doesn't penalise businesses and actually paints a picture and doesn't just give a figure without some context—.

In regard to the driver, obviously, behind this—that it does put the spotlight upon this as an issue to make employers across the board, and across the spectrum, much more alerted to the rights of employees and what they should be doing—do you feel that that spotlight, though, is still important, bearing in mind it's just a basic figure? Outside of that, there's also the comment, and that sounds fantastic in your circumstance, but there is also concern that, often, self-employment is the only route for many women after maternity if there isn't effective follow-up—and sometimes often brilliant policies, but, in actual practice, we've heard evidence that those policies don’t then translate into the actual workforce in terms of what happens after maternity. I don’t know if you have any comment on that.

10:30

Yes. So, say if we had a high percentage of turnover of maternity staff after they returned year on year, I think that would be an issue and I think a light should be shone on that. We don’t have that issue, so that’s great, but, if we were a company in that position, it would sure make that company sit up and think, 'Right, well, what’s happening?' So, de facto, yes, it would be a good thing to do.

Okay. Well, that's brought us to the end of our allotted time for this evidence-giving session, so thank you very much, Alex, Vicki and Allison for coming along this morning. You will be sent a transcript to check for factual accuracy in due course. Thank you very much.

Okay. Thanks.

3. Cynnig o dan Reol Sefydlog 17.42 i Benderfynu Gwahardd y Cyhoedd o Eitemau 4 a 6 o'r Cyfarfod Heddiw ac o'r Cyfarfod ar 17 Mai 2018
3. Motion under Standing Order 17.42 to Resolve to Exclude the Public from Items 4 and 6 of Today's Meeting and from the Meeting on 17 May 2018

Cynnig:

bod y pwyllgor yn penderfynu gwahardd y cyhoedd o eitemau 4 a 6 o'r cyfarfod heddiw, ac o'r cyfarfod ar 17 Mai 2018, yn unol â Rheol Sefydlog 17.42(vi).

Motion:

that the committee resolves to exclude the public from items 4 and 6 of today's meeting, and from the meeting on 17 May 2018, in accordance with Standing Order 17.42(vi).

Cynigiwyd y cynnig.

Motion moved.

Okay. The next item on our agenda today is item 3, which is a motion under Standing Order 17.42 to resolve to exclude the public from items 4 and 6 of today's meeting, and from the meeting on 17 May, next week. Is committee content so to do? Okay. Thank you very much. We will move into private session.

Derbyniwyd y cynnig.

Daeth rhan gyhoeddus y cyfarfod i ben am 10:31.

Motion agreed.

The public part of the meeting ended at 10:31.

11:30

Ailymgynullodd y pwyllgor yn gyhoeddus am 11:30.

The committee reconvened in public at 11:30.

5. Ymchwiliad i Feichiogrwydd, Mamolaeth a Gwaith yng Nghymru: Sesiwn Dystiolaeth 8
5. Inquiry into Pregnancy, Maternity and Work in Wales: Evidence Session 8

Okay, then. We will move on with item 5 of our committee meeting today, which is session 8 of the committee's inquiry into pregnancy, maternity and work in Wales. I'm very pleased to welcome Ken Skates, Cabinet Secretary for Economy and Transport, and Eluned Morgan, Minister for Welsh Language and Lifelong Learning. Welcome to you, both. Would you like to introduce your officials for the record, please?

I think our officials can probably introduce themselves, if that's okay.

I'm Rachel Garside-Jones, deputy director, employability and skills.

My name's Marcella Maxwell. I head up the economic action plan implementation.

Okay. Thank you, all. Perhaps I might begin, then, with questions, and, firstly, how the Government will ensure that their economic action plan and employability plan 'deliver on the rhetoric' in relation to gender, as the First Minister recently stated.

Okay. Thanks very much, Chair. It's great to have the opportunity to be with you today. If we can just take a step back, perhaps, and look at what it is that 'Prosperity for All' and the economic action plan are striving to achieve, I think it may answer your question. First and foremost, 'Prosperity for All' is about ensuring that we drive up wealth in the aggregate, but also that we drive up well-being in the aggregate whilst also reducing inequalities in both. So, ensuring that inclusive growth is mainstreamed across all activities across Wales, ensuring that we give greater opportunities to people who have been, to date, either marginalised or shut out from the jobs market, or deprived of an opportunity to be as successful as they can be in their chosen career.

Now, if we also look at an objective of the economic action plan, which is to drive up productivity for all, we'll find that the factors that have contributed to the productivity gap between Wales and much of western Europe are the same factors that prevent many women from getting secure, decent employment. Skills: relatively low levels of skills or the right skills to get the job that somebody wants. A lack of diffusion of innovation and creativity: again, the most creative businesses are those that utilise all people who are available and all skills that are available, that don't shut people out because they may not be available for x number of hours a day on a regular basis. Leadership as well: leadership is crucial in driving up levels of productivity, but good leadership leads to inclusive growth and more opportunities for women. Also, infrastructure: we shouldn't ignore the role that infrastructure has in driving up productivity levels, particularly connective infrastructure—the availability of decent road networks, rail networks and good, reliable public transport. It's a shocking fact that, in parts of Wales, a fifth of people are unable to get to their job interview because they can't get either regular public transport, mainly by bus—those bus services aren't in existence—or they can't afford public transport.

So, 'Prosperity for All' and the economic action plan are designed to drive inclusive growth. It's designed to promote and address all of those factors that inhibit productivity levels, but which will also drive up opportunities for women and ensure that there is a greater degree of equality of opportunity within our economy. We need to have behavioural change across economic activity in Wales. We also need, I think, to have something of a cultural change, but we also need to neutralise the gender of our economy. Our economy is male, and, with it, it's incredibly masculine. What we are seeking to do is to neutralise the gender of the economy to make sure that there are more opportunities for people, no matter who you are, what your gender is, what your ability is, no matter where you live, so that you can access work, where possible, on your own terms, in order to be as successful as you possibly can. I don't know whether Eluned has anything to say about the employability plan.

Well, just more broadly, I think, if you look at some of the issues that we're really trying to tackle more broadly in terms of our priorities for the economy of Wales, I think we've got to recognise that we still have a relatively poor economy and part of our mission must be to drive up productivity rates and to tackle poverty levels. Now, what we know is that poverty levels amongst single parents, for example, are much higher than in other areas. We know that the costs of childcare are sometimes a barrier to people getting into work. We know that 40 per cent of the people who use food banks in Wales are people who are actually in work. So, these are the kinds of things where I think we really need to focus our attention. That's what we're doing, and some of the measures that are in the employability plan actually tackle those issues. I'm sure we can go into some of those in more detail now.

11:35

I think, perhaps, when we're characterising what you said in opening, Cabinet Secretary, it's the old saying that a rising tide lifts all boats. So, obviously if you can increase the economic strength of Wales and prosperity in Wales, then hopefully all people in Wales will benefit from that. I guess another question, though, is to what extent there are particular groups that have particular problems that need to be raised rather higher, relatively, than others. So, it's to what extent there is a particular emphasis that is going to deal with these gender and maternity issues.

Absolutely. I think anybody who's read Affluenza or The Spirit Level will recognise that trickle-down economics doesn't work in practice, in many cases, and the rising tide doesn't necessarily bring everybody up equally. If you are to drive inclusive growth, you have to have a more interventionist approach. That's precisely what the economic action plan will deliver, and principally the economic contract will be there to ensure that we get the behavioural change, the cultural change, different working practices, improved leadership within the business community and ensure that equality of opportunity in employment is embedded in all Welsh Government operations and, if we extend the contract beyond direct financial support, which is what many Ministers in Government are keen to do, we could then ensure that we embed that cultural and behavioural change across the economy in Wales.

Okay. Thanks for that. Obviously, we'll be coming to these questions in more detail. Did you want to come in at this stage, Janet?

Yes, I'd like to. I've got a copy of the employability plan and a copy of the 'Prosperity for All' economic action plan, and I've had a good read through them, but I thought I'd just check—I'm on page 36 and there's no mention as yet about gender pay gap or getting women into work or anything. You know, Cabinet Secretary, that I've got a lot of support for what your ambitions are, and we've worked well together, but why does this report not reflect what you're saying here?

It's all about fair work. Fair work is repeatedly referenced—fair work for all—and nobody should be excluded from enjoying fair work. Fair work includes decent, reliable pay, secure working hours, access to skills training opportunities, the right to be heard and to participate and ensuring there is no gender inequality or gender imbalance. The fair work commission, in determining the definition of fair work and determining how we can ensure that the contract gets maximum value and has maximum impact, will of course be considering gender inequalities as a very central core of its purpose.

But across Wales, we have got a distinct disadvantage to women in terms of working. We know that the equal pay gap is not good, and we need to see that eradicated. We know that women suffer far more, and within this particular work that we're doing at the moment to do with pregnancy and maternity, returning back to work, we know that women are disadvantaged. So, to me, this was a perfect opportunity to really flag up those issues, and it's not in this report, Cabinet Secretary, and that disappoints me.

In all fairness, reading in isolation it would be fair to come to that conclusion that you've reached. But I think it's important to recognise the enormous amount of work that's been done on fair work to date and the contribution that the fair work board has made to driving the equalities agenda. Rather than name-check every objective that we've got, we've captured gender inequality within fair work, and fair work now is one of the few actions that form part of both the economic contract and the calls to action.

Just to add to that, I think you will see reference to it in the employability plan, on page 25, where we outline—

11:40

It's not about the order of where it appears in the paper. I'm not less wedded to something because it's on the last page of a report. That's to do with the structure of the way the report was written. That is not to do with priorities. So, let's be clear: we're not talking about a newspaper here. This is a very different approach. Every word of this document has been very carefully considered, and the word on the last page is no less important than the word on the first page.  

Okay. We'll return to these matters. Eluned, could I just ask you—? In terms of the employability plan, there's a commitment in there to take action to reduce the gender pay gap. I think the committee would be interested to know what action that will involve, particularly given that having and caring for children is the primary cause of that gender pay gap.  

I think you're absolutely right; the pay gap is about 14 per cent in Wales, which is absolutely unacceptable. What's interesting to me is that it varies a lot around Wales as to what that gap looks like. I think Gwynedd is particularly good, actually. The Vale of Glamorgan is particularly bad. But I think there are some general issues that we need to be addressing. What happens, very often, I know, from talking to a lot of friends, is that when they leave to go on maternity leave, quite often, if they take a prolonged period of time off, they lose confidence, and so we need to have some real hand-holding support to build that confidence back and to make sure then that employers are taking seriously their responsibility of not discriminating against people who are part-time workers. We need to make sure that they are equally valued and that just because they've taken a little bit of time out doesn't mean that they are not anxious to come back and to remain in the promotion league. I think what's important is that we do have a whole series of programmes where we can help and support women with childcare costs. Certainly, I think our commitment is not just about what we do; it's also about employers, and we've got to change the culture of employers and the way that they look at women, in particular those who have left the workforce for a while. 

I was going to go on to the maternity retention rates, but I'm happy to—

There are a lot of employers flouting the law openly. We've gathered lots of disgraceful evidence on that front, even people involved in employment law who are breaching the law—a bit desperate. So, a lot of employers are calling—. Well, a lot of people who are suffering this discrimination and campaigning against it are calling for employers to publish maternity retention rates, so that it was clear which employers were actually supporting women to return to work. I wondered what the Government's view on that is. 

Obliging businesses to do this would be a consideration for the UK Government, because employment law is not devolved. It is, however, a really interesting area to consider, and the fair work commission will be looking at this and examining the extent to which Welsh Government can use its powers to influence good practice. And so, of course, the commission will be considering whether we are able to incorporate anything of this nature into the economic contract.  

Can I just—? Sorry, Chair, but I really feel I just have to go back to the issue of—. I think Janet was right to raise this point, because it's crucially important. On page 1, we make it clear that inclusive growth is the objective of this Government—inclusive growth for everybody, and that inequality cannot be tolerated any longer, and that's inequality based on gender, based on physical ability or disability, it's based on regional inequality, it's based on a whole range of factors that could contribute to an individual being less well off by virtue of something that they can't control. And so, 'inclusive growth' captures gender inequality. It's what this plan is about. We are unashamedly pursuing inclusive growth now in a way that—. Other countries are now taking note of the economic action plan. We're working with the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. We're opening discussions with the World Economic Forum, because this is a growing area of concern globally. And, as I say, we are unashamedly pursuing inclusive growth now, and we'll do so for many years to come. This is a long-term plan to drive wealth and well-being for all, and we are determined to see it through. 

11:45

Okay. Thanks for that. By the way, Cabinet Secretary, if there's anything you might feel able to share with the committee in terms of that international dimension, if there's any documentation or setting out of the relationships that are relevant, that would be very useful. 

Okay. Can I suggest, Chair, that perhaps the committee—? I'm not suggesting you necessarily go to Geneva, but it would be perhaps a good idea to look at the current work that the OECD and the World Economic Forum are undertaking with Governments. They'd be able to provide you with—. I know the World Economic Forum already have publications online concerning inclusive growth. They'd be able to provide you with perhaps more detailed briefings as well in terms of best practice. If I may, could I also suggest that you take a look at some particular employers in Wales? I don't know whether you've already had evidence from, or considered visiting, Moneypenny. That's a particularly good example of a responsible business, the sort of business that would easily pass through the door that the economic contract will open. Another company that might be worth looking at is Airbus in terms of how it's challenging gender stereotypes and promoting opportunities in the aerospace sector for schoolgirls. I think those two companies might be very useful to take a look at. 

Yes, okay. We've actually heard from three businesses, small and large, today, but I'm sure we can explore further possibilities. Thank you for that. Rhianon Passmore. 

Thank you, Chair. We'd be very interested in those briefings from the World Economic Forum and the OECD. In regard to the economic action plan, what actions further to or within that specifically is Welsh Government taking to challenge workplace gender stereotypes, in particular around those that are being supported by Welsh Government, either sectorally or in other ways?

There are a number of areas in which the economic action plan will seek to change behaviour and culture. In the short, medium and long term, the economic contract will deliver short and medium-term change, which will include challenging stereotypes. Longer term, I think it's worth recognising that the new curriculum, the work of Donaldson, will have a major impact in ensuring that the world of work is made gender-neutral. 

In terms of the economic action plan, promoting fair work, promoting better leadership and better working environments is absolutely crucial, and in order to get through the door, to get direct financial support, a business will need to demonstrate how it's promoting health and well-being, in particular mental health within the workplace, and embracing fair work, committing themselves to fair work—

Could you articulate, perhaps, for the committee and more widely, what you mean by 'fair work'?

Okay. The fair work commission will be looking at the specific definition of fair work that will be incorporated into the contract, but the values have already been established by the fair work board. And I think it's fair to say that the foundations are very strong for the fair work commission to be able to further its work. In terms of the values of fair work, they include: the right to fair pay; the right to be heard and participate in the workplace; the right to a good working environment; and the right to secure and regular hours of work. We'll be looking at, or the commission will be looking at, other factors that contribute to women being able to get into work and stay in work, whether it be availability of part-time work, whether it be the availability of support within the workplace for childcare, advice and so forth. It's the commission that will be taking that work forward. We'll then be adopting it, not just within the economic action plan, but we'll be adopting the recommendations of the fair work commission across Welsh Government activities. And we would also hope that the work of the fair work commission will be recognised and also that the recommendations that they provide will be adopted by local government partners as well. 

Okay. So, just to extrapolate, in terms of how we would place our expectation around local government, would it be just be the roll-out of those best-practice principles, or would there be some mandation around that? Any further thinking on that?

At this stage, I don't think it's possible to say whether there'll be any mandation. But I think it's fair to say that the economic action plan has been embraced by all Ministers and that the principles of the economic contract, with fair work at its heart, could be applied across many, many activities, including, potentially, local government.

11:50

Okay, thank you. In terms of traditional male-dominated industries, which in Wales we are very familiar with—although that is actually shifting at this moment in time—and specifically where employers are not equipped, or don't feel equipped, to manage pregnancy and maternity issues, despite the plethora of advice and legislation out there, how do you feel that we can better avoid that situation in Wales? For instance, we were just talking to one of the witnesses from Bridgend, from Ford—exemplary in terms of their maternity retention, in terms of their holistic working practice in this area, but virtually zero vertical career progression, in terms of shop floor versus management and that accompanying gender pay gap. So, how can we better, as a Government, work with industry to better avoid those types of scenarios?

I think that there are two issues here. We've got sector—a sectoral approach—that we've got to be mindful of. So, we haven't got enough women going into STEM subjects, for example. And this is going to be really important. When you see the shift in the economy to automation and digital, we need to make sure that we're getting more women into those sectors. We've got a whole programme of work that we're undertaking—'Talented Women for a Successful Wales'. So, there's a programme that we're promoting. But, beyond that, we're also focusing specifically on apprenticeships, and I think we've got a really good story to tell in terms of apprenticeships. And one of the things we need to do, and we have been doing—there's an equality toolkit that we require of anybody who is offering apprenticeships. So, we expect them to look at gender identity, to look at stereotyping, to look at unconscious bias. We've got a lot of women taking up apprenticeships, but we need more women to take up apprenticeships in those more traditionally male sectors. So, that's where we are focusing our attention.

Now, we can go so far. We're doing a huge amount of work. For example, we have these have-a-go days, where we invite thousands of schoolchildren in to have a go with materials and technologies that they may not have come across. And sometimes those are all-female events, so we're making sure that they have a go, for example, at welding and things. But I think the other thing is that what we have got now—the impression I get is that, actually, companies are not resistant to this; a lot of companies are really quite keen to see this.

I'll make it clear through the Chair that the company we're talking to is at the front-end of best practice. But my point within that, to counter it—and I understand what you're talking about—is that, within that, we have the entry gateway into a very good place of work, very well paid, in comparison to others, but there is then that lack of vertical progression.

And that's going to be a key consideration for the commission as well. Essentially, we should see it as an escalator of opportunity within the workplace—you shouldn't just get into a job and then be stuck there, or feel locked into a particular job, not least because that then causes you pretty significant damage in terms of your emotional well-being, but it also locks you out of opportunities to earn more, and to contribute more, to participate more. So, progression within the workplace will be a key consideration of the commission. I think also it's worth just saying at this point that the closer working with Business Wales and Careers Wales will have an impact in this regard, in ensuring that careers advisors are well aware of the work that Business Wales is doing, business advisors are doing, in trying to find opportunities for businesses to become more productive, and to challenge many of the traditional sectors and the productivity gap with competitors across Europe, and in so doing they'll be able to flag to Careers Wales advisors the opportunities for careers and career progression within those businesses.

Can I just come back on one thing, and that is the importance of role models? I think role models at the top end of industry are really important. And we have three amazing role models in Wales at the top of some of the sectors. So, on the largest engineering project in Wales, we've got Gwen Parry-Jones now as the director of nuclear operations at Wylfa; we've got Maria Pena as managing director of Dragon LNG; and we've got Katherine Bennett, who holds the most senior role in the UK at Airbus. So, we've got to really promote these people, I think, and just make sure that people are seeing them, not just at the grass roots, but also within those companies. So, I do think that we need to be doing, probably, a lot more 'visibility' of those kinds of people.

11:55

I do think it's also worth mentioning again Moneypenny here with Rachel Clacher, because they run a foundation specifically aimed at helping young single mums to get into work, where, in many cases, they've never been in employment or secure employment. It would be really worth inviting Moneypenny to give evidence or to provide some information on paper perhaps.

Finally, Chair, if I may, do you think that that, in terms of how you've encapsulated it, is enough?

No, it won't be enough. It can't be enough without the measures that are being implemented through the economic contract and the calls to action. One of the calls is specifically designed to improve leadership by driving up fair work, driving up skills, and driving up standards in the workplace so that well-being is improved. It's a terrible fact that, because too many people are getting up in the morning dreading the working day ahead, a greater loss to the economy is incurred by people going to work not feeling that they can contribute to the best of their ability. Then the impact is in terms of people being too sick to go into work. So, we have to address well-being in the workplace. And, in no small part, it's actually women who are trapped in low-end jobs, who aren't getting the career progression, who aren't getting paid sufficiently and who aren't recognised for their value who are suffering the most.

Okay, thanks for that. We need to move on. On the 'Talented Women for a Successful Wales' report that you mentioned, Eluned, perhaps, after this meeting today, you could provide us with an update in terms of the recommendation and Welsh Government progress.

I'm more than happy to do that, but really it's Julie James who leads on that. But I think Karen Holford, who I met with yesterday and who authored this paper, is very keen to see—. And we have been moving things on. So, I'm sure that Julie James will give you an update. I'm more than happy to do that, but, as it's her area, I think it would be more appropriate to get it from her.

Okay. Flexible working has been identified as a key issue for parents who want to return to work after having a baby. The employability plan commits the Government to working with businesses and organisations to encourage more flexible working practices. So, could you just give us some sense of how you're going to change the dial, because, obviously, Wales has got the highest proportion of employers that offer no flexible working, compared with England and Scotland?

I think the best way to convince employers is to get them to understand that flexibility actually helps productivity, helps recruitment and it improves motivation. Those are the things that really change people's minds in terms of: should they embrace this? We need to underline that. I think we've also got to come back to this issue of leadership and management in Wales. The fact is that, I think, 53 per cent of employees in Wales say that poor management is a cause of their disillusionment at work. So, training the trainers is really, really important. I think that's an area where we really need to focus.

Now, we're doing our best in relation, in particular, to the apprenticeship programme. We're trying to drive up the number of people who are participating in apprenticeships at the higher level. The good news is that women are really pushing the boundaries in relation to the level 4 participation rate. So, we need to make sure that we're training the managers and that the managers feel a sense of responsibility, and I think it's really important that we work with the unions, with the Confederation of British Industry and the Federation of Small Businesses and all those organisations to really underline that this is good for their business.

Okay. So, one of our witnesses, Anna Whitehouse, says that all jobs should be advertised as 'flexible' by default and that it should be a day-1 right for employees. How could we achieve that, starting with the public sector, because we control the levers there?

And Welsh Government does just that. You're absolutely right—we should lead by example. Welsh Government operates flexible working patterns. A member of my family works within the civil service and has taken advantage of flexible working schemes that are offered by Welsh Government, and it certainly led to an improved sense of well-being, job satisfaction and productivity as well.

12:00

So, would you be able to give us some statistics on the percentage of employees? 

I imagine we could follow that up with a—. I don't have them to hand.

No, I appreciate you don't have them to hand, but if we could have them, that would be useful.

If I may, in order to turn that dial, as you say, the fair work commission will be looking at extending and expanding on the work that's been done by the board in respect of quality time in the workplace, ensuring that people at work feel that they are participating when they are there, that people have secure employment schedules, but also the question of flexible working will be something that the commission will be considering very early on. The commission will be reporting by spring 2019, and perhaps it's something that this committee could revisit next year.

Can I just say—sorry, Chair—that it might be worth asking Mind Cymru for a paper on well-being in the workplace? I mentioned to Rhianon Passmore the pretty startling fact that the productivity hit is greater due to people not feeling that they can be in work or feeling depressed or stressed in the workplace, and it is those people—. So, it might just be worth getting a note from Mind Cymru, because I think that could contribute to the evidence base that I'm sure you're gathering.

Okay, thanks for that, Cabinet Secretary.

Just before you go on, Jenny, Bethan Sayed wanted to come in at this point.

I just wanted to ask—. You say how good the Welsh Government are, but a lot of the evidence we had was how, actually, in the public sector work practices were quite discriminatory—in local government and some charities that do get support from Welsh Government. So, I think, really, if it's going to be an exemplar, it has to operate and permeate through all the different sectors of the public service. You may not have all the evidence to hand, but we certainly could share that, but I was just wondering what you're doing to proactively lead in that regard, to show, you know, local government and the charities, or build into your contracts, 'You must do this, so that you can show that you are a fair working environment'. Because, if someone is going to be sacked when they're off, if they work for a charity that gets money from the Government, then that's really not very acceptable.

I'd really be very grateful for any evidence suggesting that charities or local government and the public sector may be failing to meet the high standards that we would expect. But I think Bethan's right; we could be, with the economic contract, applying those same requirements to the public sector that we'll be requiring of the private sector, and this could extend to charities in receipt of direct financial support from Government, or directly via arm's-length bodies or directly from us.

We've had some very specific evidence around teachers who have been refused flexible working, part-time working, job sharing and, as a result, these women are leaving the profession, which is obviously a major issue for all of us. So, we'll obviously be putting that to the Cabinet Secretary for Education next week.

As well as the statistics that you might be able to give us on flexible working, I wonder if you can also add to the little list the number of men taking paternity leave or parental leave in Welsh Government. I think that would just be really—

Numbers or a percentage, you know, because, obviously, numbers are more—

I know that, across Wales, it's very, very low. I think it's about 1 per cent of new fathers. So, 27,000 women across Wales, and about 250 Welsh dads. So, I think there's a bit of work to be done there.

There's plenty of work to do.

I wonder whether you—

Because it's women who are deemed to be the people who have to look after the kids.

Your Employment Settlement Service, which obviously tried to negotiate rather than take people to tribunal to get them back into work, suggested that Government could consider financial incentives for small and medium-sized enterprises to offer flexible working. Why would that be necessary, given that we all think that flexible working is beneficial to the enterprise? I wonder if you can respond.

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not convinced that having just one carrot, which would apply to perhaps willing businesses, would achieve what we wish to see done, which is to have that behavioural and cultural change right across business, and indeed public sector as well. So, instead, I'm firm in my belief that the four criteria of the economic contract are the best means to ensure that fair work, and with it flexible working, is embraced by all employers.

12:05

So, what do you think you can do through your employability plan, through your prosperity plan, to actually get that across to all these neanderthal employers?

Well, with the economic contract, in order to draw down any direct financial support in the future, you'll need to be able to demonstrate that you're meeting the criteria of the contract, and one of the points in the contract concerns fair work. The fair work commission will be able to contribute to precisely what that is in the future. It could change over time. We wish it to be a quite pragmatic and malleable point within the contract that will address concerns relating to inequalities at any given time. But in order to draw down that financial support from Government, you would need to meet your four points of the contract. So, you therefore have to demonstrate how you are providing opportunities for people to work on the basis of flexible arrangements. 

If you don't meet the criteria of the contract, you will still get support from Business Wales in order to become a more responsible employer, to then get back through the door. If we extend the economic contract across Welsh Government activities—I've spoken about this in the past—but particularly to procurement, then you're going to be reaching a huge, huge number of businesses. Those businesses that don't meet the criteria of the contract, they can't then secure procurement opportunities, so will then need to get that support, eventually from Business Wales or from others, in order to become more responsible to then get that opportunity to get through the door and to get procurement contracts. 

I appreciate you haven't yet set the outcomes you're going to monitor in terms of the impact of your policies on protected groups, but can we expect to see these sorts of things captured in terms of the number of mothers returning to work, flexible working, these sorts of key issues that obviously relate to people with family responsibilities?

I'd expect, as part of the fair work commission's objectives, a regular appraisal of whether we are delivering against expectations. So, whilst we wish to ensure that the targets and the measurements that apply to the economic action plan are consistent with well-being indicators used across Government, I think in terms of the fair work commission there will clearly be, longer term, a need to recognise whether there's been success or failure in implementing the recommendations, and that will therefore require an evidence base and ongoing monitoring.

Okay. I think we've probably dealt with the fair work questions that we were to ask, so we'll move on to the economic contract and Janet Finch-Saunders.

Thank you. How will the economic contract ensure that employers work to eradicate pregnancy and maternity discrimination—for example, requiring firms to demonstrate actions to reduce the gender pay gap, reporting on maternity retention rates and having good parental leave policies in place?

Well, primarily through having to comply with the economic contract. If the contract can't be met, then support will be given, primarily through Business Wales, to ensure that employers adjust working ways to meet the contract criteria. This is a huge shift for Government. In terms of how we are going to be supporting businesses in the future, we wish to see investment with a social purpose delivered, rather than just support the creation of jobs without any check on whether there's any additional value being added to our investment. So, with inclusive growth as our primary objective, we wish to see any financial support that comes directly from Government, from our portfolio, attached to demonstrable outcomes that benefit individuals, not just in terms of getting into employment but in terms of those factors that I've mentioned on numerous occasions now: access to secure work progression in the workplace, skills training, the right to participate and to be heard.

12:10

Okay. Returning back to women in the workforce, the current policy that's been piloted by Welsh Government in terms of the 30 hours of free childcare for ages three to four—there's been overwhelming evidence that we've taken that that's too late, that, really, if you want to return back to the workforce, suddenly having support for children at three and four years old is way too late. What plans do you have as a Welsh Government to enable returning mothers to access that free childcare much, much sooner?

Well, I think there is a tax-free childcare scheme that the UK Government offers, and obviously that's a tax scheme that we can't, at the moment, effect. So, there is that system that's available, and I know that a lot of people take advantage of that. So, that support is there. But beyond that, there are other programmes where we are helping, in particular, women who are not in education, employment or training, for example, people who are long-term unemployed—. So, we have a programme called PaCE—the parents, childcare and employment programme—

Yes, I've read about that, but my question mainly is: we've taken overwhelming evidence that the three—. How do you believe that the childcare support that you're providing—? It's a bit ambiguous really as to who's actually able to access it at the moment—which authorities—and, in terms of performance, how well that's doing. How do you believe that the money that's been used now to support women with children at three to four—. How is that scheme working?

Well, we know that that's—. We're still in the pilot phase, so that's being assessed at the moment. So, it will be rolled out, obviously, by the end of this session, but I think what's clear is that we've got three different approaches. We've got this PaCE one, we've got another one specifically for areas that were in the Communities First areas, so that's really reaching out to those people, and we've got this offer for three and four-year-olds. But I think what's important is that we underline the fact that there is that support there from the UK Government in terms of that tax-free childcare scheme and that people should take advantage of that.

Just before you go on, Janet, Siân just wanted to come in on this point. Siân.

Jest cwestiwn byr ynglŷn â'r cytundeb economaidd. Gallaf i weld y byddai hynny'n gallu bod yn ffordd briodol o gael cyflogwyr i wneud rhai materion rydym ni'n meddwl sydd yn bwysig. Fe wnaethoch chi sôn bod hwn yn mynd i gyffwrdd â llawer iawn o gwmnïau. A allwn ni gael rhyw ffigurau o gwmpas hynny, o ran percentage o gyflogwyr yng Nghymru fydd yn gorfod seinio i fyny i dermau'r contract economaidd? Efallai y buasech chi'n gallu rhoi gwybod i ni am hynny. A hefyd, lle yn union ydych chi arni efo cyflwyno'r contract yma? A oes yna drafodaethau yn mynd ymlaen efo cyflogwyr ynglŷn â beth fydd cynnwys y contract ar hyn o bryd, a pha fath o bethau penodol allwn ni eu gweld o fewn y contract yna o gwmpas cau'r bwlch rhywedd, er enghraifft? Felly, pa fath o faterion fydd yn rhaid iddyn nhw arwyddo i fyny i'w gwneud cyn y bydden nhw'n gallu cael gwaith gan y Llywodraeth? Jest ychydig bach mwy o fanylder ynglŷn â lle rydym ni arni yn gyffredinol.

I just wanted to ask a brief question about the economic contract. I can see how that could be an appropriate means of getting employers to do some things that we think are important. You mentioned that this would reach many companies. So, could you give us some figures around that, in terms of the percentage of employers in Wales who will have to sign up to the terms of the economic contract? Perhaps you could inform us of that. And also, could you tell us where exactly you are in terms of rolling out this contract? Are there discussions ongoing with employers about the content of that contract at present, and what type of specific things will we be able to see within that contract in relation to closing the gender pay gap, for example? So, what types of things or issues will they have to sign up to to carry out before they can be given work by the Government?  I just want to seek a little bit more detail about where we've reached.

I'm very grateful, actually, for those questions—it gives me an opportunity just to provide more detail about the economic contract. It's going to be launched this month. It's not possible to say how many businesses it will apply to, or a proportion, because any business looking for direct financial support from my department will have to comply with the contract. And so every and any business that wishes to get through the door and secure direct Welsh Government economy and transport finance will have to demonstrate a commitment.

So, I think it's fair to say, to date, through our engagement, that the best employers are those that recognise the need to value all employees. The best companies are those that recognise the need to become more productive and, therefore, to adopt new ways of working. And it's those companies, by and large, that have embraced the economic contract and the principles of it, because I think they recognise that, actually, they're meeting the criteria already.

We wish to reach out to more businesses, and those businesses that perhaps in the past have benefited from Welsh Government investment but have not met the criteria of the contract as it stands today, will be those that benefit from further advice and further engagement from Business Wales in order to ensure that they're not just becoming more inclusive in the way that they operate, but also becoming more productive and futureproofing themselves. 

12:15

What kind of criteria are you talking about, specifically in the gender—?

Okay. So, the engagement that's taken place—. The criteria stems from the engagement with business and also with social partners, and the criteria was based on those four points. It will include the need to demonstrate a commitment to fair work—I'll ask Marcella to talk about the engagement and the points within the contract—but also to improving health and particularly mental health in the workplace; commitment to decarbonisation; and also demonstrable growth potential too. Now, growth can be driven through addressing the—

Okay. So, the first one is the one that's relevant to here.

Most relevant, but also I wouldn't discount the need to demonstrate improved health and mental health in the workplace, because I think that also has contributing factors. Marcella.

It's about good working practices, really, which stretch across and include flexible working, fair work—depending on the definition of it. I think another important thing to—

But you have to legally—. You have to be able to offer flexible working anyway, so that's not a particular Welsh Government requirement, because it's there anyway.

Yes, it's how it's adopted and how businesses take it up, I think, and the difference that it makes to employees, because we've heard today that, actually, a number of employees feel they can't access flexible working. So, it's actually bringing this to life and making an impact. 

I think the other important thing to say about the economic contract is that there are four minimum requirements, as the Cabinet Secretary said, but it's just a first step in businesses being able to access direct financial support from us. Once they've met those four requirements, they will then be eligible to apply for funding against the five calls to action, and as the Cab Sec said, that's really about the futureproofing of our businesses and our industries. So, we're looking at things like decarbonisation, areas around innovation and entrepreneurship, exports and trade, but also fair work is actually one of the calls to action in its own right, along with high-quality employment and skills. So, we're embedding it at both ends of the process, if you like, but it's very early days. We've engaged with over 200 businesses since the plan was published, plus a number of other organisations and third sector organisations as well. We've been very encouraged, but it's all about the implementation, I think. The process and the principles a lot of businesses are signing up to, but they really want to know how it is going to work in practice.

How many economic contracts have you got signed up with businesses currently across Wales?

So, to date, the way that we've gone about supporting businesses, if they're looking for direct financial support, is to assess how many jobs will be created against the amount that's being sought, and then there will be conditions attached, and I think probably the most significant condition is the sustainability of the employment—making sure that people are employed and that the jobs exist for five years. That's fine, and I think it's served us perfectly well. We now have historic low rates of unemployment, incredibly high rates of economic activity compared to where we were in the 1980s and the early 1990s. However, there is still too much poverty, and there is still too much inequality. We have to iron out the lumpiness of the economy and ensure that those people who have not benefited from jobs growth and general economic growth in recent years benefit from a new contract. So, the criteria of the economic contract will be key in enabling businesses to get through the door. But the five calls to action I think will add far more value to the Welsh economy and to the well-being of people who live in Wales than simply judging on the basis of how much it costs to create a job by any given business.

Okay. Well, on that note, then, what about the views on the suggestion from Chwarae Teg that if the economic contract does not deliver change, in terms of helping women, reducing the gender pay gap and reporting on maternity retention rates, consideration should be given to adding an additional call to action that specifically focuses on gender? Would you do that?

12:20

It makes for a compelling argument. I would, at this stage, suggest that we need to mainstream gender inequality through all calls to action, but we'd give a particular focus within that call concerning high-quality employment and fair work. Of course, we will be looking at the effectiveness of all of the calls and I'm sure that, in the future, if it's deemed that a specific targeted call is required then that could be taken forward. At this moment in time, I wish to ensure that fair work across all areas of activity is taken forward within the calls to action.

Can I just add, very briefly? Part of what we're doing in relation to skills and flexibility—we do have a system at the moment where we do require companies and organisations who want to access that funding to look at these issues. I wonder if I could ask Rachel just to say a few words on the MERIT scheme.

We have a flexible skills programme that supports employers' skills needs, and as part of that we use a MERIT scheme, so that they can self-assess and provide us with that information. It's called MERIT because it looks at their management, their equality, their remuneration, industrial relations and training. So, particularly for the equality element of that, we ask them for information on the diversity of their workforce, the number of women, whether they have equality champions, and that enables us to share best practice of employers who are doing that particularly well, but also encourage the behaviours we want to see. So, we do have that up and running.

And when you probe into that, in terms of the differential and the ratios, are you pleasantly surprised by the number of women that are being employed or do you think there's a lot more work to be done?

Diversity, I'd say, between large employers and small employers, and between different sectors that are more traditionally male-dominated and others where there's a fairer balance.

In particular where it's more male-dominated, are you seeing a trend?

I think the work we're doing on apprenticeships is bringing more women in and has a positive influence on those employers. But certainly, I think we've got some work to do in certain sectors where we don't see enough numbers and the workforce is not as diverse as we'd like it to be, but it does enable us to monitor that and encourage behaviours.

I just wanted to flag up the biggest challenge for all of us, because you've got very good aspirations, but in the context of the fourth industrial revolution, how are we going to ensure that the benefits of automation are felt by families having fairer work arrangements, so that they're not having to do two jobs and all the rest of it?

This is something that we've both been really, really engaged with in recent times: the need to ensure that we've got the review, which is now under way, delivering as soon as possible, and that review should also concern fairness of work and how automation will ensure that inequalities are not exacerbated, but reduced, and what opportunities there are with digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence that could contribute to ensuring that the spirit level is indeed levelled.

Sorry, can I just come back to Janet's point and say I'm keen to make sure that on the fair work commission we have experts who can ensure that that particular call regarding high-quality employment and fair work meets every need necessary to address gender inequality? So, it's going to be for the commission itself to ensure that that call is sufficiently robust. 

I take it you've got a good balance on your commission in terms of—

Just before you go on, I think Rhianon Passmore wanted to come in. Very quickly, please.

Thank you, and it was really more in relation to that rigour around the monitoring of the five calls and in terms of that potentiality of looking at that and whether that could evolve in the future. So, I'm satisfied with that. Thank you.

What information and advice is provided to employers through Business Wales, which is a Welsh Government flagship, in relation to retaining employees through parenthood, particularly small businesses, including the provision of spaces for breastfeeding? 

12:25

Well, Business Wales have numerous points on the website where information is offered, and there is regular contact between Business Wales and those who have signed up to the Business Wales newsletter and information services—direct advice that's offered to businesses seeking support or seeking advice. This covers all of the issues that you've already raised and more. It covers issues concerning inequalities across a number of factors, but I think it's fair to say that, in the future, as we roll out the economic contract, Business Wales will act as a facilitator and as a vehicle for promoting best practice, for promoting further information on the availability of resource concerning the childcare offer as well. Business Wales will also have a role in ensuring that childcare businesses are sustainable and futureproofed. Business Wales will also have a role in ensuring that childcare businesses are recruiting people with the skills that are required to meet parents' expectations. Marcella, I don't know whether there's anything else about—

Can I just ask, though: will that include any training facilities in terms of helping small businesses when they are recruiting? Again, we have been told as a committee that, sometimes, it's the lack of knowledge. Sometimes, people are just brazen about it and they don't want to accept their responsibilities. But, in terms of training during recruitment processes for small businesses, will Business Wales have any direct intervention there?

Business Wales would have a role in offering advice. 

It does offer online learning courses as well. Whether they're specifically in relation to your question, I don't know that detail.

We can look at that.

It could be looked at. I look forward to seeing your report and any recommendations within it. If there is evidence there that direct training would be very beneficial, then it's certainly something that we could ask the Business Wales board to explore.

Okay. Janet, we need to move on to the employability plan at this stage, I'm afraid.

We've only got two and a half minutes left, I'm afraid.

Okay, so on the employability plan, I wonder if you could expand on how organisations delivering the employability programmes of Welsh Government will be expected to demonstrate their commitment to this agenda of inclusivity, avoiding any gender discrimination, and their commitment to equality. What will that look like in practical terms?

So, our flagship programme in relation to the employability plan is the Working Wales programme. This is a programme that's targeted at unemployed people and economically inactive people. What is unique about this programme is that it will be tailor-made to the individual. It is obvious, therefore, that there will be a responsiveness, in particular, to individuals walking through an employment gateway. So, that's what happens. People come through an employment gateway, and then you look at: what are their barriers to work? What are their barriers to employment?

There will be huge flexibility within the system in order to respond to the needs of that individual. So, if there are issues relating to childcare, we can then put a package of measures of support around that to make sure that that's possible. So, while it's not up in neon lights, 'We are helping women', we are helping individuals with their individual support needs. So, it may be that somebody who has just had a young child also needs support with transport, or also needs support with mental health care. We can deal with those in relation to that individual, and I think that's what's really unique and different about this new approach.

Okay, and how would that relate to mothers returning to work after childbirth? We've heard that there is a great loss of experience and ability to businesses that really needs to be addressed more effectively than is currently the case.

Well, we do have programmes to help with that. Parents, Childcare and Employment is the programme that we work with. I met a lady involved with this yesterday, actually. She's a hairdresser with four children. She wanted to go back to work and simply couldn't afford to go back and train and then to get into the workplace. So, PaCE stepped in. We provided huge support in terms of costs of childcare. We've now got 958 parents—mothers—back into work through this scheme. We're ahead of target in terms of delivering on that. We've engaged with 3,000 people on that scheme, so, that is a successful project. There's a different project for areas in relation to Communities for Work and that, again, is probably even more sensitive hand-holding in relation to those people who are slightly further away from the jobs market.

12:30

And the role of Careers Wales in helping women to return to work after childbirth? We've heard that that's not always as effective as it might be. Is that something you'd recognise?

Well, I've been putting quite a lot of pressure on Careers Wales to review in particular their website. It's really important that it's easy to access, so they are looking to do that. Part of the responsibility of each person who works in Careers Wales, who is a professional, is that part of their training involves challenging gender stereotypes. So, they are trained for that. That's part of what their core work is. And I think there is a whole section in relation to Careers Wales that's supporting people who are looking to return to work. So, although it's not specific to women, that facility is there in relation to Careers Wales. 

Will there be any change on that front, Minister, because we've heard that, as I said, Careers Wales aren't always as effective as they might be in helping women return to work after childbirth? So, would you envisage any significant change to what is current practice?

It's quite interesting: if you look at Careers Wales, part of the difficulty is that it is quite complex, it's quite difficult to navigate, so our approach has been to have a generic approach and then to help individuals, so that it's easier to navigate. It's a deliberate approach to making sure that it's easier to navigate and then we help people when you get into the detail of that individual case. 

I appreciate why you're saying that, but I think when we had evidence from Sarah Rees who's gone through trying to set up her own business, she was saying that because—. Again, I think it touches on what Janet was saying. I appreciate it's not where it is in the report, but if it's not there on the website very clearly then they may then be put off going there to seek advice. So, I think trying to change it so that they see it as a place to go would be beneficial, and also the levels of support they need, because she felt a bit patronised, because she knew how to write a business plan and they were saying to her 'Write a business plan'. But that's not the level of support she needed. She needed a higher level of support. So, I think if you could consider some of these views, that would be really beneficial.