Fair Work and Black History Month are linked. Fair Work, through its enabling dimensions of Effective Voice, Opportunity, Security, Fulfilment and Respect, seeks to improve workplaces and leave no-one behind. Scotland’s ambition is for Fair Work to be the driver for success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses and society. The objectives of Black History Month are also about improvement, redress and inclusion. The legacy of centuries of exclusion and omission, of the role the importance and the contribution that Black and minority ethnic (BME) people have made to the Scotland that we live in, still manifest themselves within the workplace. BME people suffer overt racism, microaggressions and institutional disadvantage and in so many cases their work is anything but fair.
In general employment terms, racialised minority workers are over-represented in sectors where there is the most need for Fair Work interventions. One of the most precarious forms of work arises because of the use of zero hours contracts. This is because here, almost all of the balance of power unhealthily lies with the employer. The Fair Work Convention believes that the use of zero hours contracts is something that needs to be seriously tackled. That is why their use is disincentivised by Scottish Government through the application of their Fair Work First criteria. This conditionality looks to ensure that no public funding is given to organisations that are not addressing precarious work and not actively implementing Fair Work.
In just about every case where a zero hours contract is in place, there is always a more balanced contractual alternative that would provide more security of income through agreed flexible working arrangements and importantly through more predictable working hours. Even where a worker feels that a zero hours contract can give them some short-term advantage in terms of being able to decline work, there is normally a price to be paid through even more unpredictability in the longer term. Cited concerns about workers being penalised and not allocated hours in the future are very real and never “appropriate”.
It is worth looking at recent trends in the prevalence of zero hours contracts. Recent data published in August by the UK Office for National Statistics, shows a significant increase in the use of these contracts in Scotland. Here, we remain behind every other UK nation, with 4.1% of all workers being on zero hours contracts. Delve further into these figures and our situation becomes even more untenable. The hospitality sector is still struggling to recover from the pandemic and the economic downturn. Yet across the UK the ONS data shows a staggering 28.5% of hospitality workers are on zero hours contracts. It is not difficult then, to make the connection that racialised minority workers would be more impacted given their over-representation in the most poorly paid sectors of our economy. Analysis from the TUC further shows that racialised minority women are an even more disproportionately affected group within the zero hours cohort, not least because it is overwhelmingly women who have caring responsibilities. This is the reality of structural racism in action. So whilst Black History Month is about celebrating diverse contributions, when we are talking about zero hours contracts in Scotland, there really is nothing to be proud of, or celebrated.
But Fair Work offers so many solutions. As Scotland tries to recover from the economic downturn, employers face very real challenges to recruit the best workers and keep them. So wherever employers are on the continuum of their Fair Work journey, they can draw input through employee voice. They can use this and the other dimensions of Fair Work to interrogate their work practices to redress all of the disadvantage faced by their workers, including those that have protected characteristics based on their race, gender, religion or belief.
More widely, for those that ask what they can do, I always point to the universal nature of the Fair Work dimensions. Particularly the ownership and responsibility that it puts on all stakeholders – the Scottish Government, employers and trade unions. Fair work can never be “othered”. Everyone is key to making work fairer and achieving the equality of work outcomes that is critical for any nation to be inclusive and to flourish.