Time for a fair, green and growth-agnostic agenda and to be better ancestors? – Robert Carr

We often wish that things had not happened in our time. But we have to deal with what we have been given. If challenges seem impossible and overwhelming, all we can do is look to the present and the future. We each have the choice to do something, to make our contribution, however small. In that way, our sense of powerlessness can be converted into empowerment.” (John Sturrock 2019)

As we have responded to Covid-19 and begun to re-imagine our world as we build back differently many open conversations are taking place about where we are now, where we want to be and how we are going to get there. These conversations are being conducted, not as a dance of opposites, fuelled by self-interest or point-scoring, but as heartfelt dialogues to collectively create and deliver a common vision for the future. Despite formidable hurdles there are many reasons for optimism. Many have the confidence to be bold and ambitious and to make the pressing changes that are necessary in our workplaces, marketplaces, communities and for our environment.

Of course part of this re-imagining will be a lookback at the lessons to be learned from Covid. Over the past year we know that very many people have worked very hard and have done the right things in the face of a tsunami of unprecedented challenges. But evidence is already emerging that the adverse consequences have varied by sector and have fallen disproportionately on those on low incomes, BAME groups, those with disabilities, and women. Where failings will be identified I wonder whether the absence of Fair Work will be a root cause?

We are recognising as we move from response to recovery we have to change the wheels on the bus, and its direction, as it hurtles down the hill and is at risk of heading towards the cliff. How are we to address our institutional systemic inequalities like those identified by the Fair Work Convention’s Social Care Inquiry that two years ago related the undervaluing of care work to the fact that it is largely undertaken by women. Women make up the majority of those who are cared for and they are also the majority of the workforce. The Independent Review of Adult Social Care in Scotland, chaired by Derek Feeley, that published its report on 3 February 2021, reflected those findings and recommendations and recognised that improved training, standards, pay and fair working conditions not only improve the quality of care but also support the economy. The Audit Scotland Report published on 17 February 2021 on the NHS in Scotland 2020 recommended that Scottish Government should consider how services will be delivered differently in the future, and how this will affect the shape of the health and social care workforce in the longer term. That Report said Scottish Government and NHS boards should monitor and report on the effectiveness of the measures introduced to support the health and wellbeing of staff, in order to assess whether sufficient progress is being made. These recommendations all recognise that Fair Work is a priority.

There is, then, much evidence of a new, shared vision of a sustainable, respectful Scotland, where individuals and communities can thrive, and our diversity is celebrated. That vision recognises that our wellbeing is dependent upon individuals, workplaces and communities participating in taking informed decisions about our futures. Our creativity and resultant innovation is released and we are more productive when we collaborate in safe discretionary spaces in diverse teams. This means that, when possible, decisions should be taken locally by the communities, families and individuals most affected. And there are ways of organising and conducting dialogues over difficult, dangerous and controversial issues that are more effective than the traditional means of resolving disputes.

Enlightened policy makers are looking together at the interconnectedness of people, planet and place, including workplaces. These include Kate Raworth whose model articulated in the mischievously titled “Doughnut Economics” has been formally embraced by the municipality of Amsterdam as the starting point for public policy decisions, as well as by Sir David Attenborough in “A Life on our Planet”. Raworth advocates that instead of focusing on the growth of the economy, the overriding policy objective in industrial countries, our dangerously outdated economic theories need to be redrawn. The inner ring of her doughnut sets out the minimum we need to lead a good life, derived from the UN’s sustainable development goals and agreed by world leaders across the political spectrum.

It ranges from food and clean water to a certain level of housing, sanitation, energy, education, healthcare, gender equality, income and political voice. Anyone not attaining such minimum standards is living in the doughnut’s hole. The outer ring of the doughnut represents the ecological ceiling drawn up by earth-system scientists. It highlights the boundaries across which human kind should not go to avoid damaging the climate, soils, oceans, the ozone layer, freshwater and abundant biodiversity. It replaces an impossible goal of endless growth in a finite world by one of thriving in balance. The Fair Work Convention co-chair Professor Patricia Findlay invites us to reframe our economic objectives around the creation and fair distribution of value.

These models coincide with the place-making revolution in urban planning around the 15-minute neighbourhood that provides residents access to most, if not all, of their needs within a short journey from their home. Based upon four pillars, proximity, diversity, density and ubiquity, 15-minute policies transform urban spaces into connected and self-sufficient sustainable communities. This requires a move towards a more decentralised and devolved planning framework that understands in granular detail the unique characteristics of each neighbourhood and encourages development that will demonstrably improve the quality of life, now and in the future, for the residents in those neighbourhoods.

Roman Krznaric suggests that those who genuinely care about intergenerational justice are easy to spot. Their actions are their answer to the timeless question posed by immunologist Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine in the 1950s: are we being good ancestors?

As we approach a Scottish election there is much consensus on three main themes:  a green recovery, a fairer society and data-driven innovation as a key driver for change. The dimensions of Fair Work: an effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect, all elements of the Raworth doughnut’s inner ring, are overarching principles interwoven with these themes. But how do we increase the pace of delivery? What levers and conditionalities such as procurement, commissioning, audit and grant making can be used? What do we truly treasure and how do we measure that to influence positive behaviours?

Of course “success” is an ever-shifting frontier as we strive for continuous improvement. We will know that we are close to that frontier when all our people are flourishing, when there are no holes in the dough and when we are well within the our planetary boundaries. People in Scotland will be and feel rewarded and secure at work because in our workplaces we can stretch our own development, find creative solutions, make things work better and make a difference. Dialogue and challenge will be dealt with constructively and the views of our diverse people will be sought out and listened to. People will be treated with dignity and there will be parity in access to, and progression, at work. We will be open, mutually accountable, transparent and responsive to the concerns of others. We will all accept that security of employment, work and income are important foundations of a successful life. We will be seen as powerfully collaborative by adding value to all those we work with and for. Other nations will look to us for leadership, inspiration and best practice, and by sharing, we will learn from them. We will all have working lives where Fair Work drives success, wellbeing and lasting value for individuals, enterprises, and society. We will find meaning in all that we do. We will be a Fair Work Nation.

Robert Carr 

Fair Work Convention