Since the launch of the 2016 Fair Work Framework and the challenge set down by the Fair Work Convention for Scotland to be a world leading Fair Work nation by 2025, there has been much support, new government departments established, a Fair Work Implementation Plan and high level commitments to ensure delivery. However, the report card is far from great, and we have much work to do.
Towards the end of 2020, the Fair Work Convention launched its first annual report “Fair Work in Scotland”. The report reveals that disabled workers, ethnic minorities, women and young workers often experience poorer work outcomes and often more heavily concentrated in precarious and low paid work. It highlights the significant challenges across all the dimensions of fair work which the COVID-19 crisis is presenting, reinforcing the need for decisive action. It follows on from The Fair Work Convention Social Care Report 2019 which highlighted the need for transformation in commissioning approaches and called for an immediate end to non-committal framework tenders, the introduction of national fair work terms & conditions for all social care staff, and the establishment of a national body to represent the voice and interest of this invaluable workforce. Whilst work is underway to deliver this, the pandemic has demonstrated that this must proceed with haste.
So, it would be unfair to say we are not making some progress but conversely, we are not setting the heather alight. With 2025 fast approaching, we need more action and serious attention given to the Fair Work Framework and its underlying principles across all sectors and organisations, particularly as we emerge from the pandemic.
Much of our sector fight for the rights of those most disadvantaged, many of whom are not experiencing fair work. Some organisations are themselves substantial employers. In my view, the framework fits well with our sector’s values and principles; we should fully embrace it. There is no demand for perfection. That is not what is being asked for, or aspired to. There is no tick box or kite mark – the ask is to step up, use the framework to help benchmark where you are and get started on the journey. It is a perfect model for us as advocates and employers. Who could argue that the five dimensions of Effective Voice, Opportunity, Respect, Security and Fulfillment do not mirror our values as campaigners and employers? We can – and must – do much more to embed it at the core of our sector.
The most challenging dimension is “security”. There are many ways we generate income and funds; large scale commissioned service provision, well-developed fundraising and supporter bases, shops, lotteries and trusts. However, many are funded by long term year-on-year grants, most of which feed in from the annual Scottish Government budget. Once again, some are about to hit the yearly cycle of uncertainty and insecurity as they wait to hear if their long-term grant funded services/projects will make the cut. In turn, thousands of people will be holding their breath, sent risk of redundancy notifications and face months waiting to know if their funding is secure.
Unsurprisingly, in most cases the answer is yes, yet the process creates immense uncertainty, stress and pressure. But why? Of course the annual budget needs to be agreed, but we don’t put our NHS staff or other Public Sector employees through this, and despite the variety and changing nature of needs, there is never much doubt those employed are secure. Why shouldn’t that also be the case for long-term grant funded services in our sector? So many of these services are essential. Why can’t we work on the same basis? It feels entirely unfair and highlights a different value – a lesser value – placed on the vital services our sector provides.
We need to bring an end to this unfair cycle. Let us, as a sector, truly embrace this framework, become its advocate and deliver on the expectation. And as we do so, let us in turn demand an end to this black mark that keeps dragging our report card down.