Senator Sam Mezéc accused Chief Minister John Le Fondré of failing to adequately engage with faith groups and trade union representatives following the adoption of the Common Strategic Policy in 2018 – which sets out the government’s ambitions until 2022.
In response to a written States question from Senator Mezéc, asking how many scheduled meetings the Chief Minister had ‘personally had with faith groups, business representative groups and trade union representatives’, Senator Le Fondré said he had undertaken a ‘number of engagements’ with parishes, churches, faith groups, community groups, the third sector, volunteers, businesses, trade unions and key stakeholders since being elected as Chief Minister in June 2018.
‘This has included three meetings with faith groups and over fifty meetings with business and third-sector representatives and two with trade union representatives,’ he said.
Senator Mezéc said he believed that level of engagement was unsatisfactory, and not enough to effectively hear the views of faith groups and trade unions.
‘When the States debated the Common Strategic Policy, an amendment was unanimously accepted which asked the government to ensure that it consulted with faith groups and trade unions, in order to truly govern in an inclusive way,’ he said.
‘The fact that so little engagement has actually been done shows a degree of contempt for that States decision, and misses a clear opportunity to benefit from the views of groups which represent so many people in our community.’
Senator Le Fondré also said that the States Employment Board – which he chairs – has established ‘robust arrangements for engagement between officers, on behalf of SEB, and trade union representatives’ and that he had engaged in regular correspondence with representatives of each of the groups listed ‘both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic’.
Senator Mezéc said that while it was right to engage with business groups, governments ‘serve their whole communities’ and urged Senator Le Fondré to undertake a programme of engagement to meet personally with faith leaders and trade unions ‘rather than send people on his behalf to do so’.
‘Trade unions will be aware of issues facing employees on the shop floor that are so often overlooked by those at the top, and faith groups will regularly be serving the vulnerable in their congregations so will understand what structures are causing difficulties for those people,’ he said.
‘The government has made a shocking lack of progress on its own commitment to reduce income inequality and there is little chance of this changing if they don’t take their heads from the sand and start actually listening to people with real, lived experience of these issues.’
When asked for his thoughts on the matter, Senator Le Fondré said: ‘Whilst it has not always been possible, or appropriate, to conduct meetings with trade unions or faith groups personally, I have met where possible, or alternatively, have directed officers to undertake engagement with a variety of representatives from our community including trade unions and faith groups.’
He added that during the Covid-19 pandemic, ‘Government of Jersey representatives’ had been involved in 137 meetings with trade union representatives.
‘Teaching unions are also sent all education-related Covid-19 communications including press releases, letters to schools, head teachers’ updates, attendance data and confirmed cases in all schools,’ he said. ‘As we return to more normal times it should be possible to have greater engagement. This will be dependent upon the progression of the pandemic over the next few months.’