Guest blog: What next for Fair Work in Scotland? – Gail Irvine

In March – one year into the coronavirus pandemic and on the threshold on the Scottish Parliament election – my organisation the Carnegie UK  Trust published What Next for Fair Work in Scotland? As part of the Carnegie UK Trust’s mission to improve wellbeing, for the last five years our Fulfilling Work programme has had a focus on measuring and promoting good quality work, with the aim of ensuring many more people across the UK and Ireland can access work that improves their wellbeing.

Gail Irvine, Senior Policy and Development Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust

There were many reasons for publishing the report when we did. There has been widespread interest in fair work in the different nations and regions of the UK and Ireland. But Scotland is arguably the most advanced in not only setting out a clear definition and political commitment to Fair Work, but also setting up infrastructure (such as the Fair Work Directorate, Cabinet Secretary, and independent Fair Work Convention) and an Action Plan geared towards achieving this. At the Carnegie UK Trust we place a high value on sharing policy learning across the jurisdictions of the UK and Ireland. The end of the Parliamentary session was an opportunity for us to take stock and document the work taken forward to date in Scotland, before turning our focus to the next five years.

More crucially, COVID-19 significantly alters the context in which Scotland’s Fair Work Agenda is being taken forward – presenting stark challenges as well as opportunities for change. The pandemic has changed working lives and the labour market, and shone a light on long-running inequalities in access to Fair Work. Decision makers in Scotland may find that with the challenges of managing the pandemic and its impact on employment levels, capacity to advance the Fair Work agenda may be tested. On the other hand, the extraordinary labour market interventions and business innovations seen during the pandemic may have changed citizens’ expectations of what political change may be possible. This could offer new opportunities to accelerate progress on Fair Work in some areas. Businesses who have been struggling to continue trading or sustain employment due to COVID-19 may struggle to prioritise Fair Work in their decision making. Conversely, new opportunities for Fair Work may exist where employers have experienced new levels of solidarity and trust among their people in navigating the pandemic together, or where they feel a responsibility for ‘building back better.’

There are many factors in play, and the type of labour market that emerges from COVID-19 is not predetermined. We believe that Fair Work should be a central objective of the new Scottish Government and job quality must be integral to the debate about how we build back better. What Next For Fair Work in Scotland is part our contribution towards this debate.

In turning the Fair Work vision into a reality, we consider that there are three imperatives for the next phase of advancing Fair Work in Scotland. We need to assess and adapt, implement, and influence.

  • Assess and adapt: How should the Fair Work Action Plan continue to adapt in response to the pandemic? Do the impacts of COVID-19 mean that specific elements of Fair Work, or specific groups of workers, should be prioritised?
  • Implement: Where government in Scotland has direct levers to influence Fair Work, how can these be fully leveraged? (for example, in procurement, job creation, education and skills, or social security).
  • Influence: How can we engage more employers or mobilise civil society more widely, to deliver Fair Work?

We are keen to work with the new Scottish Government and Parliament, Fair Work Convention, and all organisations with a stake in Scotland’s recovery and an interest in advancing Fair Work in answering these questions.

Gail Irvine

Senior Policy and Development Officer at the Carnegie UK Trust