Fair Work Debate – 12/03/19

Sadly, workers’ hard-fought-for rights are being eroded. The gig economy, zero-hours contracts and a lack of collective bargaining have led to that, and young people and women are bearing the brunt. Careers that are gendered and predominantly female suffer disproportionately. Alison Johnstone pointed out that, at 16.5 per cent, Scotland has the ninth-highest gender pay gap of OECD countries.

During the debate, the nationalists have said that they do not have the devolved powers over employment law that would enable them to do something about the situation, but instead of complaining about what they do not have, they should use the substantial powers that they do have to make a difference.

John Mason questioned whether we can use contracts and procurement to make a difference, and of course we can. As Neil Findlay and James Kelly pointed out, the SNP voted down amendments to the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill not because it was illegal to use contracts in that way but because the SNP did not want to do so.

The Scottish Government and its agencies have enormous buying power but they do not use it to push for higher standards in all contracts. It is not enough to say that the Scottish Government will extend the fair work first approach to as many contractors as it can, possibly within six years. It should do that now for all procurement and all contracts. However, it voted against doing that in Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill and, as Richard Leonard pointed out, the Scottish Government is actively involving companies in its contracts that do not recognise trade unions.

Have the Scottish Futures Trust and the Scottish Government signed up to Unite the union’s construction charter? Fair work must be extended to Government departments and agencies.

The minister said that the Government is starting to roll out fair work first with regional selective assistance. Although any move in the right direction is welcome, the Government will be signing contracts that will run for many years hence that do not have fair work principles at their core.

James Kelly pointed out that the Scottish Government could have put a living wage provision into the Procurement Reform (Scotland) Bill in 2014; 20,000 more people are now earning poverty wages.

Annabelle Ewing talked about the heroes and heroines of the care sector—I absolutely agree with her on that. However, on 26 February this year, the fair work convention published its inquiry report, “Fair Work in Scotland’s Social Care Sector 2019”. I apologise for quoting the press release at some length, but the inquiry found:

“• the social care sector is not consistently delivering fair work;

• the existing funding and commissioning systems are making it difficult for some providers to offer fair work; and

• the social care workforce does not have a mechanism for workers to have an effective voice in influencing work and employment in the sector.

In addition, given the predominance of women workers in the sector, the report also highlights that failure to address issues such as voice deficit and low pay will significantly contribute to women’s poorer quality of work and Scotland’s gender pay gap … The burden of variations in demand for social care is falling heavily on front line staff, who can face zero hour, sessional contracts, working beyond contracted hours and working unpaid overtime to meet the needs of care service users.”

This is a sector in which almost all services are delivered through Government contracts, so the situation is a disgrace.


  • Bob Doris:

    Does the member appreciate that there has been success in the social care sector? For example, a deal between the Scottish Government and local authorities means that the living wage is now paid to care staff in care homes across the country. In Glasgow, services that were delivered by Cordia have been taken back in-house by Glasgow City Council, which means pay increases for female workers who were lower paid under Cordia until the SNP changed things.

  • Rhoda Grant:

    Any improvement in working conditions for care staff is welcome but some of the changes that are being made to care contracts mean that people are getting their hours cut. They are not being paid for sleep-ins, for example. We need to look at the whole thing and make sure that when people work, they are paid a fair wage for that work and do not have their overall pay cut just because sleep-ins are part of their contract.

    We would pay a living wage of £10 per hour for all, while the SNP wants a 5 per cent reduction in poverty pay over the next three years. It is timid to aim for an additional 25,000 people to be paid a real living wage over the next three years when 480,000 people are paid less than the real living wage in Scotland—it is a drop in the ocean.

    Bill Bowman talked about high rates of unemployment in Dundee and seemed to be saying that that was a reason for not paying a real living wage. That makes no sense to me at all. Why should people on poverty pay have to pay for the misfortune of those who cannot find work? Surely we should be looking to the higher-paid people to fill the gap rather than those who are already on low pay?

    James Kelly made the point that the Scottish Government should have used fairer taxation rather than consigning 20,000 more people to poverty pay.

    We can do so much more to create a fair work environment. The Scottish Government and its agencies have vast procurement powers, and the Government must lead by example and force up standards across all sectors of procurement and contracting. Neil Findlay said that it is simply wrong that companies that operate a blacklist receive Government contracts. I declare an interest, as my husband was blacklisted from the North Sea for demanding better health and safety protection. Rather than make progress in six years’ time, we need fair work for all workers today.