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Supporting Scotland's vibrant voluntary sector

Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

The Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations is the membership organisation for Scotland's charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises. Charity registered in Scotland SC003558. Registered office Mansfield Traquair Centre, 15 Mansfield Place, Edinburgh EH3 6BB.

Fair work in the voluntary sector: what’s working?

Back in 2015, SCVO and TFN surveyed around 1,000 sector workers about their experiences working in the voluntary sector.  Eight years, four UK prime ministers, two referendums and a pandemic later, it was high time for a refresh. Last month GCVS and the Scottish Centre for Employment Research launched the findings from their very timely Fair Work in the Third Sector in Scotland report.  As well as covering some of the same ground as the 2015 survey, their research brings in important new Fair Work dimensions:  effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect. 

So, has anything changed in eight years?   

The Living Wage has been a big issue for the sector for the last decade and things appear to be moving in the right direction. In 2015 around 17% of people employed in Scotland’s voluntary sector were paid below the Real Living Wage, and by 2022 that figure has dropped to just 6%. However, despite all the sector’s lobbying and the Scottish Government’s commitment to becoming a Fair Work Nation funding still does not always cover Living Wage rates. GCVS also found that fewer than half of respondents feel that they are fairly paid for the work that they do, and fewer still feel they have parity of pay with other sectors, similar to previous findings.  

Job insecurity still a key concern 

There seems to have been a slight improvement in terms of contract types, with more permanent posts, and less temporary and fixed-term contracts. However, the lack of job security was and still is a major area of concern for the sector’s workforce. This is usually as a direct result of short-term funding arrangements and late confirmation of funding for posts. Longer-term contracts are strongly associated with positive staff experiences in the sector and one of the main recommendations of the GCVS report is for third sector organisations (TSOs) to strive to adopt longer contracts, and for funders to support TSOs in delivering this.  

SCVO and the TSI network have just published Fair Funding and Fair Work which makes this exact call: to enable third sector organisations to become Fair Work employers, the Scottish Government must uphold and implement its commitment to Fairer Funding: funding which is long term, flexible, sustainable, and accessible. 

GCVS’s research found that fewer people (19%) are actively looking for a new job now than in 2015, when almost half of respondents said they were seeking a new job. However, this is still higher than the UK average, and skilled workers leaving – often to work in other sectors for better pay or more job security - remains a major issue.   

Job insecurity also ripples out into other areas and may sit behind the perceived lack of training and career progression opportunities highlighted by respondents both in 2015 and in this latest survey. Given the short-term nature of much funding, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that organisations are not investing in long-term staff development, but it needs to be looked at.  

Equalities and fair work 

Another area where things still aren’t good enough is equalities. Ethnic minority staff were found to be overrepresented among those reporting the highest level of financial insecurity, have less control over the hours they work, and felt they had less access to training and development opportunities. Women were less likely than men to agree that they were paid fairly for their work, felt less well supported by managers, and were more worried about financial security. Staff reporting a disability were also overrepresented among those most worried about financial security and job security. 

What’s working well? 

More encouragingly there are several areas where the voluntary sector does extremely well. In terms of fulfilment and job satisfaction over 80% of the sector’s workers feel highly motivated by their work and their employer’s core purpose, compared to less than half of UK workers in general. Voluntary sector workers also report a much wider range of channels for their voices to be heard in the workplace and feel more involved in decision-making processes. 

It would be great to use that strength of voice and ability to set our own agenda to keep making positive changes for the sector’s workers. One GCVS respondent, talking about the lack of long-term funding, states “I was saying this 44 years ago and I am still saying it!’. Things do seem to be moving in the right direction. Let’s hope we’re not still talking about below Living Wage pay, unequal treatment of workers, and high levels of job insecurity in 2067, another 44 years from now!  

According to SCVO’s Third Sector Tracker, staffing shortages and recruitment issues are some of the top challenges for the sector just now.   The voluntary sector needs to retain the motivated and skilled staff we have, while also encouraging new people into sector by offering fair pay, more job security, and tackling diversity issues head on - often difficult issues that the sector and its funders need to work on together. But we should also highlight the things we do well, such as offering rewarding work in a supportive environment that listens to its employees.  Prof Findlay and her team end their report for GCVS with these positive words: “To conclude, while there are opportunities for deepening and broadening engagement with fair work practices in the third sector, it is worth re-iterating that there is strong evidence of good practice in the sector across multiple dimensions of fair work. This is an asset for the sector and should feed into its communication and dissemination strategies, as well as feature in its recruitment approaches.” 

For more on fair work see: Fair Funding and Fair Work: Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations and TSI Scotland Network 

Last modified on 24 February 2024