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Chamber and committees

Meeting date: Thursday, March 22, 2018

Meeting of the Parliament 22 March 2018

Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Down’s Syndrome Awareness Week, Major Infrastructure Projects, Fair Work, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Decision Time


Fair Work

The next item of business is a debate on motion S5M-11160, in the name of Jamie Hepburn, on building greater fairness in the workplace.


I am very pleased to have brought to the chamber this debate on fair work, as it will help to underline the importance that the Government places on building greater fairness in the workplace and across society. It provides an opportunity to highlight the key role that fair work can play in our economy as a new way of creating value.

Scotland’s economy remains resilient and our labour market remains strong, with high employment and low unemployment. However, we know that, for too many, the experience of work is not always positive. Unfair work does not just negatively impact on the individuals affected; it impacts negatively on our productivity and our ability to deliver sustainable economic growth at the national level.

In Scotland, we have prioritised inclusive growth as a pillar of our economic strategy. We will have an even more productive and competitive economy if we have a fairer society that is underpinned by a more inclusive labour market.

The minister mentioned inclusive growth, which is a central plank of the Government’s economic strategy. Does he have a definition of inclusive growth that he could share with members?

It is clear that the first element of growth is ensuring that the economy grows. Thereafter, it is about ensuring, when it comes to how that growth is shared among the wider population, that, for example, more people are paid the real living wage and not the Tory con trick living wage. That is one obvious measurement. It is about ensuring that we have greater diversity of participation in our labour market. That is what I mean by inclusive economic growth.

Our labour market strategy sets out actions to ensure that every person, regardless of their background, has the opportunity to access quality education, training and support into employment. However, the issue does not finish there. For some, having a job does not provide a route out of poverty. Low pay and precarious employment with fewer rights and less security result in workers being unable to plan for the future with confidence, even on basic necessities such as meeting housing costs, paying their bills or clothing their children.

Will the minister therefore look at the Scottish Government’s definition of “positive destinations” for young people and ensure that it does not include things such as zero-hours contracts?

Ms Smith will of course be able to speak to her colleague Johann Lamont, who made that point to me last week at the Education and Skills Committee. I have committed to looking at that matter. Johann Lamont asked the question in a very reasonable fashion, and she conceded that it might not be possible to do that. However, we are considering whether it is possible to change how we measure outcomes. We are looking at that matter now and I am happy to report back to the chamber on that work.

We established the fair work convention, and we share its vision that, by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life. I believe that that aim must surely unite us all in the Parliament. In many ways, Scotland is ahead of the curve on fair work. A key indicator of any employer’s fair work commitment is payment of the real living wage. We were the first Government in the United Kingdom to become an accredited living wage employer. Scotland is the best performing of all four UK countries on the proportion of the workforce that is paid at least the living wage and the number of accredited living wage employers as a proportion of the UK number.

Fair work practices help to deliver real and sustainable business success. The evidence shows that adopting fair work practices is good for business and that it increases competitiveness, enhances reputation with customers, reduces absenteeism, improves retention and fosters productivity.

Will the minister give way?

I will just test how much time I have.

You do not have a lot of time, because we started late and you had only 10 minutes.

Then I am afraid that I will not give way. I apologise to Mr Harvie.

The Scottish business pledge celebrates companies that commit to fair work values and that recognise the benefits of doing so. The number of businesses that have adopted the pledge is growing steadily. I am pleased to be able to tell the chamber that 450 businesses have now done so, with M-Squared Lasers, a laser technology company based in Glasgow, being the 450th signatory. I believe that there is cross-party support for the elements of the business pledge and a shared ambition in the Parliament to significantly increase the number of businesses that actively champion fair work and inclusive growth.

I also believe that we can do more with the business pledge. Therefore, today, I am announcing a short review of the business pledge that will be focused on securing greater business buy-in and impact. Over the summer, we will work with the current pledge companies, the main business organisations, our business support partners and the wider business community to explore barriers to making a commitment to the business pledge and ways that the pledge might evolve. We want to boost buy-in and impacts, but let me be clear that fair work is at the heart of the business pledge, and that will not change.

If fair work is to mean anything, it must mean everyone in society having equality of opportunity when it comes to earning a living and pursuing their preferred career. However, for many people, achieving that ambition remains elusive. We are taking significant steps to address workforce inequalities. In February, we launched the workplace equality fund, which is worth £500,000, to deliver innovative employer-led solutions to overcome workforce inequality. Last year, the Minister for Social Security launched “A Fairer Scotland for Disabled People—Our Delivery Plan to 2021 for the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities”. Disabled people make up around 20 per cent of the working-age population but are half as likely to be in work as those who do not have a disability. We have therefore committed to reducing the disability employment gap by at least half.

The plan’s implementation is under way, and achievements have already been made, including the creation of a new independent living fund scheme for young disabled people aged between 16 and 21; the launch of a second phase of the national health service disabled graduate intern programme; and enhancement of the modern apprenticeship training contribution rates for disabled people and those with experience of care up to the age of 29. However, we know that we must do more if we are to halve the disability employment gap. In April, the First Minister will set out further steps towards our target at a major congress on disability, employment and the workplace.

We cannot allow completely outdated and false perceptions and practices on race to continue to impact negatively on the opportunities of Scotland’s minority ethnic population. The race equality action plan, which was published in December, details key actions to drive positive change, including working with key stakeholders to agree baselines, measures and targets for ethnic minority communities who face disadvantage in the labour market.

Just as we have shown our determination to tackle racism, we are equally determined to reduce gender inequality and improve the position of women in the workplace. Although our full-time gender pay gap remains below that of the UK, we cannot afford anything other than an acceleration of progress in how we approach gender in the workplace.

We are working with the Equality and Human Rights Commission to tackle workplace pregnancy and maternity discrimination, and we have established the pregnancy and maternity discrimination working group. Among its tasks has been to strengthen the availability of guidance to pregnant women, new mothers and employers about rights and responsibilities within the workplace.

We are investing in the returners programme, which is assisting women to re-enter the workforce following a career break and is addressing the underrepresentation of women in the STEM—science, technology, engineering and mathematics—finance and manufacturing sectors, and we are working with Close the Gap and others to consider how we can further tackle the gender pay gap.

Significant progress is being made on a number of fronts, but there are still challenges ahead of us, including the use of exploitative zero-hours contracts and precarious work; the fact that nearly a fifth of workers in Scotland are still paid less than the real living wage; and the fact that we have a UK Government that pays lip service to the protection of workers’ rights and which attacks trade unions.

We believe that every worker should have the right to an effective voice in the workplace and to union representation. We see trade unions as social partners and a huge asset for our country. That is why we oppose the UK Government’s Trade Union Act 2016.

Will the minister take an intervention?

I am afraid that I will not, given the time constraints. I am sure that we will hear the point that Ms Baillie was about to make in a few moments’ time.

In 2016, we introduced the trade union fair work and modernisation fund to promote better working practices and offset the burden of the trade union act. I am delighted to announce that, in 2018-19, we will provide third-year funding of £250,000 to support the trade unions’ work to extend the concept and understanding of fair work in sectors where precarious work is prevalent. We will also provide £100,000 to the Scottish Trades Union Congress’s fair work: leadership and equality programme to develop leadership capacity within trade unions by delivering training to those from underrepresented groups.

We must build on the significant progress that we are making to deliver greater fairness in the workplace. Before the end of the year, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work will develop and publish a fair work action plan, which will set out how the Scottish Government will utilise all of its strategic levers to promote and embed fairer working practices and thereby realise greater inclusive growth.

Delivering a fair work nation is not just a challenge to Government. It is a challenge to businesses, to trade unions, to the public sector, to employers, to workers and to us as politicians to work together to lead the cultural change that is necessary to achieve our progressive vision. As part of the development of the Scottish Government action plan, we will look at public funding and how it can better support businesses that demonstrate fair work practices.

I am clear that the Scottish Government must show leadership, but I am also clear that each of us who has been elected to Parliament must play his or her role, too. We will host a fair work summit with a view to ensuring that we draw in the widest range of expertise. That invitation will be extended to every party that is represented in the chamber so that we can develop the collaborative delivery of the fair work vision.

We may not agree on every step that we must take, but let us agree to take this journey together. On that note, I commend the motion in my name to Parliament.

I move,

That the Parliament shares the vision of the Fair Work Convention that, by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world leading working life in which fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society; considers fair work as central to achieving inclusive growth; commends all employers that recognise the value of their workforce by giving them fair access to opportunity, respect, security, fulfilment and an effective voice; recognises the vital role of trade unions to Scotland’s economy, society and workforce; condemns those who seek to exploit workers, and recognises the importance of the EU social pillar in ensuring that workers can have ongoing protections and rights in statute.


This debate gives us a good opportunity to recognise the importance of fair work in society.

“Good Work: The Taylor Review of Modern Working Practices” and the fair work convention have both emphasised the increasing importance of fair work for individuals, for businesses and for society as a whole. They have also emphasised that quality of work is sometimes more important than the quantity of work, although it was nonetheless encouraging that the figures that were released yesterday show that employment levels across the UK are at the highest levels for 40 years.

As the minister indicated, there is broad consensus across the chamber on the importance of fair work, as the motion and the amendments demonstrate, but there is probably less consensus on how we deliver fair work. Our view is that although the promotion of greater fairness in the workplace needs to be underpinned by legislation that protects workers’ rights, more than that is required. As the Taylor review states:

“For most people the benefits of work go well beyond the minimum established in law. National policy cannot mandate best practice.”

We agree with that.

I will deal first with the role of legislation and then the role of best practice in promoting fair work. In terms of legislation, the UK Government has introduced some of the most significant improvements in workers’ rights in decades and, in doing so, has greatly increased fairness in the workplace.

Will the member explain how the Trade Union Act 2016 has enhanced workers’ rights?

The Trade Union Act 2016 was designed to make relationships in the workplace reflect the modern workplace and its new dynamics. The single most important dynamic is that we are close to full employment. Having economic growth and high wages across the economy is the way to deal with some of the issues that trade unions are concerned about.

Will the member take an intervention on that point?

I would like to make a bit of progress, but I will invite the minister to intervene later.

Two years ago, the UK Government introduced the national living wage, thereby giving a pay rise and a fairer wage to millions of workers—full-time workers on that wage now earn more than £1,000 more per year. Just yesterday, the UK Government announced a 6.5 per cent pay increase for more than 1 million national health service workers in other parts of the UK. I look forward to the minister explaining whether the Scottish Government will match that pay increase.

Since 2010, more than 4 million of the lowest-paid workers across the UK have received a higher and fairer share of their take-home pay by being lifted out of tax altogether and having the right to keep more of their hard-earned wages. Fairness in the workplace has also been increased by the introduction of new rights for workers in a number of different areas, including increased annual leave, shared parental leave and maternity pay, with rights in those areas in the UK going far beyond the EU equivalents. As our amendment highlights, it is clear from the strong track record of the UK Government in advancing workers’ rights that leaving the EU will not diminish those protections.

The United Kingdom Government has also extended the most important and fundamental of all employment rights, which is the right to work, with the creation of more than 3 million new jobs across the UK in the past eight years. On that note, I will give way to the minister.

I want to go back to the rationale that Mr Lockhart was struggling to provide for the Trade Union Act 2016. By working with trade unions as partners in Scotland, we achieved a 71 per cent reduction in the number of industrial disputes between 2007 and 2016. Does he not consider that working with trade unions in that way is more positive practice than passing punitive legislation that does not allow them to organise in the workplace?

I do not agree with the minister’s description of the legislation; I do not think that it is punitive at all. Trade unions and their individual members play a critical role in Scotland’s economy, and a number of the trade unions’ concerns have been dealt with by the Taylor review. The United Kingdom Government is taking forward 52 of the 53 recommendations of the Taylor review, and a number of the concerns that the minister has raised will be dealt with at that point.

To build on its success and further advance fairness in the workplace, the UK Government has announced a good work programme and, as I have just mentioned, has committed to act on all but one of the recommendations of the Taylor review. The good work plan will position the UK at the forefront internationally in addressing the challenges and opportunities of modern working practice.

In addition to legislative and regulatory protections, to build greater fairness in the workplace, the Taylor report highlights the importance of best practice. The Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee’s gender pay gap report highlighted that when it looked at the importance of returner programmes. It found that some companies have been able to retain a high percentage—on occasion, above 95 per cent—of senior female workers after a career break. That shows the positive impact of best practice.

However, we need more. Building greater fairness in the workplace needs more than just legislation and best practice, and that is recognised by the Scottish Government’s labour strategy, which acknowledges that if Scotland is

“to be a more successful and fairer country, with opportunities for all to flourish”,

we need a strong economy and a skilled population that is capable of meeting the needs of employers, and we need growing and competitive businesses.

We agree with all that, but the unfortunate reality is that the Scottish Government is delivering none of it. It is not good enough for the Scottish Government just to set out ambitions and to talk a good game on building greater fairness in the workplace; if the Scottish Government is serious about delivering fairness, it needs to start addressing some of the hard economic realities. We have a stagnant economy; an increasing skills gap; declining education standards; inadequate training, with 160,000 college places having been cut and not replaced; and an increasing failure rate for small businesses. In addition, workers in Scotland have the lowest wage growth in the UK and the lowest disposable incomes, but they are paying the highest levels of income tax in the UK.

Will the member give way?

I am just about to wrap up.

The member is just closing.

Those are the hard issues that the Scottish Government needs to address if it really wants to deliver fairness to the hard-working people of Scotland.

I move amendment S5M-11160.1, to leave out from “to Scotland’s economy” to end and insert:

“, and their individual members, to Scotland’s economy, society and workforce; condemns those who seek to exploit workers; welcomes the commitment given by the UK Government that all employment rights derived from EU law are to be incorporated in domestic law following the UK’s departure from the EU; acknowledges that the vast majority of recommendations from the independent Taylor review of modern employment practices will be taken forward, and considers that these commitments will position the UK at the forefront internationally in addressing the challenges and opportunities of modern working.”

I call Jackie Baillie to speak to and move amendment S5M-11160.3—six minutes, please, Ms Baillie.


I welcome the opportunity to take part in this debate, and I support the Scottish Government’s aspiration to deliver fairness in the workplace. It would be even better, of course, if it practised what it preached; it all sounds good but, in this case, the Scottish National Party rhetoric does not match the reality.

Labour raised the issue of fair employment practice in public sector projects with the Scottish Government just last week. It would be useful to know what the Scottish Government has done since then to tackle the issue. Members will recall that I described the situation where workers on former Carillion contracts at the Edinburgh Waverley extension project and the Shotts-Cleland electrification project were on bogus self-employment contracts. They had to pay both employer’s and employee’s national insurance, were charged £100 by umbrella companies to receive their wages and had no certainty over their employment from one week to the next. Those are projects that are funded by the Scottish Government and which involved decisions taken by Transport Scotland. It is the Government’s money, and ministers can dissemble all they like, but we know the truth and that is why we need a procurement review.

Then there is the situation with the Aberdeen western peripheral route project—rehearsed a few minutes ago—with allegations of bullying and harassment, and the ignoring of agency worker regulations. What action has the Scottish Government taken about that? I know that it has spoken to Transport Scotland, so what action has been taken on those allegations? The Scottish Government cannot claim to be in favour of fairness in the workplace and then do little to deliver it.

The Scottish Government itself uses agency workers, in some cases for five years continuously, on poorer terms and conditions than civil servants, who are doing exactly the same jobs, are on. The majority of low-paid, temporary and agency staff are young people and women. What has the Scottish Government done to stop that exploitation?

Will the member take an intervention?

In one second.

It is breathtaking hypocrisy for the SNP Government to pretend to champion fair work while engaging in some of the practices that it rightly condemns.

Ms Baillie will recognise that, under employment law set by the UK Government, agency workers can be paid less than employees on permanent contracts. She will understand and recognise that we have committed to paying all those employed as agency workers the living wage.

Jackie Baillie rose—

Just a wee minute, Ms Baillie. I have to call you to speak. You cannae just stand up. Please sit down

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

Have you finished Mr Hepburn?

That is it from me.

Ms Baillie.

Thank you so much, Presiding Officer. I am always very pleased to be guided by you.

It is the decision of the minister and his Government to employ agency staff. Those staff are temporary, but employing them for five years is not temporary employment; it is a means of avoiding paying them the same rate and putting them on the same terms and conditions as a Government civil servant. That is breathtaking hypocrisy. [Interruption.]

At the heart of the fair work convention is a recognition of the importance of employees having a voice—[Interruption.]

Excuse me a minute, Ms Baillie. Minister, you cannae have a wee debate off camera, as it were, so just be quiet while the member is speaking, unless you are requesting another intervention.

You will get your time back, by the way, Ms Baillie.

Thank you very much, Presiding Officer. The minister’s sedentary sounded to me like just a lot of hot air.

At the heart of the fair work convention is a recognition of the importance of employees having a voice and of the value of trade unions. I certainly agree with that and so, I believe, does the First Minister. However, on the very day that the First Minister met the Scottish Trades Union Congress to discuss fair work, SNP councillors on West Dunbartonshire Council launched a direct attack on trade unions by cutting facility time. It is quite laughable for the Tories to talk about workers’ rights after they introduced the Trade Union Act 2016, but it looks like the SNP in West Dunbartonshire Council is trying to out-Tory the Tories. They are making a joke of the minister’s warm words on trade unions. I implore the minister, the First Minister or anyone in the Government to intervene, because surely that disgraceful attack on trade unionists and that disrespect for workplace democracy should be stopped in its tracks.

Let me briefly mention the university lecturers’ strike. I think we all agree that a pension should be a basic right. It is disgraceful to reduce pensions that people have contributed to all their working lives. It would be enormously helpful and welcome for the Scottish Government to try and bring some sense to that debate and to intervene on behalf of the staff.

Fair work is central to achieving inclusive growth. We know that insecure work has a negative impact. It puts stress on families and pressure on family finances, which flows through to the economy and holds back growth. The scale of the problem is significant: an estimated 274,000 Scots are in some form of insecure work, 160,000 are in low-paid self-employment, 43,000 are in temporary work, and around 71,000 are still on zero-hours contracts. The majority of those workers are women, so it is little wonder that the gender pay gap persists.

When it comes to employment for disabled people, the gap is widening. From 2010, when the Tories came to power, until now, the gap between disabled and non-disabled people in work has gone from 31 to 37 points. That demonstrates a failure to develop an inclusive economy, and I would urge the SNP to take steps to cut that gap.

Will the member give way?

No, I have already taken an intervention, and I am running out of time.

The suggestions that Labour is making, such as the use of inclusive employment conditions, procurement rules and taxpayer-funded grants, would help to drive a different set of employment behaviours.

The Scottish business pledge, launched by Nicola Sturgeon in 2015, requires private sector firms to pay the living wage, avoid using exploitative zero-hours contracts and make progress on diversity and gender balance. Who could disagree with that? We certainly do not. However, the revelation that only 15 per cent of Government suppliers have signed the pledge is a disgrace, so I very much welcome the review that is being undertaken.

Presiding Officer, £11 billion of public sector money is spent each year on the procurement of goods and services. Surely we should be using that to deliver fair work, and not just in the private sector; we should be using it to drive change in the private sector, too.

I move amendment S5M-11160.3, to insert at end:

“; notes, however, the hypocrisy of the Scottish Government, which has failed to ensure fair pay and employment rights when awarding public money to private firms, as reported on several public projects across Scotland; further notes that the Scottish Government has added to the problem of insecure work through the long-term use of agency workers in its agencies; calls on the Scottish Government to end this exploitative practice, and further calls on ministers to urgently review public procurement in Scotland to end these abhorrent working practices.”


I hope that this debate does not turn into one where Labour and SNP members howl at one another about how wrong the other side is. Other than the Conservative Party, I think that most of us in this Parliament are trying to get to the same place. Inevitably, whichever party is in government will be more cautious and will have civil servants and lawyers leaning over ministers’ shoulders saying, “This is very difficult, minister. You can’t go that far.” Opposition parties have a responsibility to push the Government beyond its comfort zone—to go further and faster, and be more ambitious. Other than the Conservative Party, we are all trying to move in that direction.

The Scottish Government is due, at a guess, six out of 10 for its efforts. It is a pass mark, but it certainly needs to go a lot further. I will vote for the Labour amendment, although it is regrettable that its language is a bit hyperbolic and it does not quite recognise the efforts that have been made. There have been efforts and there has been progress, but that progress is not enough and needs to go further.

The attitude that I have brought to this debate, not just in the current session but in the previous session, when I sat on the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee, which undertook an inquiry into the whole fair work agenda, is to recognise that there is a two-pronged approach. We can pave the high road, making it easier for companies and businesses to do the right thing, and we can block the low road. Blocking the low road is harder to do within the existing constraints of devolved powers, and those who opposed the devolution of employment law should be asked to reflect on the misjudgment and the missed opportunity that that represents. We could be doing a lot more if we had a lot of those levers.

However, the fact that it is difficult or challenging is not a reason not to try. To its credit, on other issues the Scottish Government has been willing to risk a court case here or there for a good policy, such as alcohol minimum pricing. The Government needs to be willing to push at the boundaries of what is legally possible in relation to fair work, too.

The last time that we debated the subject was in May 2017, when the Greens moved an amendment to a Government motion and asked the Parliament to agree that

“access to government support and funding”

should be

“dependent on clear ethical and environmentally-responsible business practices”.

That debate was under the heading of workers’ rights.

We expect an implementation plan to ensure that business support that is taxpayer funded and controlled by the Scottish Government is contingent on fair work practices. Let us start blocking the low road. It is good to pave the high road and to give encouragement and perhaps a bit of extra resource where a business needs support to make good employment practices possible, viable and achievable. However, we need to start blocking the low road as well. We need to start saying no to applications for support from the Government that come from businesses that do not meet those standards.

I have here the initial inquiry form for the regional selective assistance grant. There is nothing in there about quality of employment, workers’ rights, the living wage or zero-hours contracts or the other exploitative practices that we have heard about. One question says that

“Scottish Enterprise encourages and supports Applicants to develop an Invest in Youth policy”.

There is nothing to suggest that that means not getting away with paying younger workers less and exploiting those on the lower bands of the minimum wage. There is nothing to prohibit such sharp, exploitative practice.

That is just the initial inquiry form; I have the full application form here as well. It is a very long form that asks for a great deal of information about not just the work that would be funded by a grant if it were to be given but the whole business model and the organisation’s structure. The only question that gets close to asking for the kind of information that we should be asking for is one that asks for the average basic salary for each job title. There is nothing to say that those who pay poverty wages—that is, the minimum wage—will be excluded. We should require businesses and organisations that want taxpayer-funded support to develop and expand their businesses to be participants in the business pledge and other Government initiatives in this area.

It is time to say that paving the high road is fine and fair enough, that it helps, but that it is not enough. We need to start blocking the low road as well. When the minister closes the debate, I want to hear the Government give a clear commitment to implement the decision that the SNP’s members voted for in endorsing the motion last year: having an implementation plan to make Government-funded support contingent on meeting the high standards that we should all expect in our economy.

I call Willie Rennie to open the debate for the Liberal Democrats. You have six minutes, please.


The voluntary nature of the fair work agenda has its attractions, as it creates an encouraging environment for business. However, it works only if it raises the game and makes businesses change so as to perform better and live up to those standards. If they fall below those standards, how do we make that change so that they can buy into the fair work agenda? I am pleased that hundreds have signed up to the business pledge, but we do not really know what impact it is making on on-going change in such businesses. Can we assess that and the change that it is actually making?

In a debate about fair work, it would be remiss of me not to mention Amazon. It has not signed up to the business pledge; it would not be allowed to do so. I noticed that when Keith Brown, the Cabinet Secretary for Economy, Jobs and Fair Work, met Amazon a year ago after I raised concerns about working practices at its plant, a minute came out from the meeting that said that Amazon had explained that a decision could not be taken locally and that it would have to be the subject of a national agreement by its senior management. It agreed to look into that. I would like to hear from the minister, when he sums up, whether he ever heard back from Amazon and whether he thinks there is a pathway to the company signing up to the business pledge and the fair work convention. Amazon is a major employer—it is certainly a significant employer in Fife—and it would be good to know whether it will change its practices in line with the fair work agenda.

I praise Stewart McDonald, the member of Parliament for the Scottish National Party who introduced a private member’s bill on the subject at Westminster: the Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill. I commend him for introducing that. I would like to know whether any companies that offer unpaid trial shifts have signed up to the business pledge, because such practice seems incompatible with the broader fair work agenda.

Despite Stewart McDonald’s bill having the support of some Conservative MPs, the UK Government allowed it to be talked out and subsequently to fall. Does Willie Rennie agree that that was utterly despicable?

I do. I have been subject to that practice at Westminster when my progressive private member’s bill was talked out by errant back-bench Conservative MPs who did not believe in “superfluous” legislation, as they described it. It is wrong for that to happen, but unfortunately the practice is not uncommon at Westminster.

I suggest that it is wrong for any company that does not sign up to the business pledge and the real living wage to be a beneficiary of Government financial support. Amazon received millions of pounds in Government support, but it continues to pay many of its employees at a rate that is below the real living wage.

I have looked through the fair work framework, and much of it is eminently sensible. It says that fair work is work that offers

“effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect”.

However, what difference is the framework really making? We have set a target to achieve a world-leading working environment by 2025, but how will we know that we have achieved that golden vision? Are there smart and effective measurements that will enable us to know that we have achieved the ambition?

In the United Kingdom, there is an 18.4 percentage point gender pay gap. The position in Scotland is slightly better, at 16.1 percentage points, but that is not something with which we should be particularly satisfied. Thanks to the Ferret news site, we know that the gender pay gap in 28 Scottish public bodies is greater than the national average. We cannot be satisfied with that, either.

I was pleased by the work that Jo Swinson did when she was minister for equalities in Government. She introduced the requirement for companies that employ more than 250 people to report on their gender pay gap, and by 4 April something like 9,000 companies will be reporting on that basis. From the figures that have been published so far, we find that three quarters of businesses pay men more than women, on average. Some 77 per cent report that men’s median pay is higher than that of their female colleagues. Only 9 per cent of businesses have closed the pay gap between the sexes and only 14 per cent pay women more than they pay men. The figures are unacceptable, and the transparency that will be achieved as a result of the new requirement will assist us in closing the gender pay gap.

I thank Engender for its briefing for today’s debate, in which it highlights some of the weaknesses in the fair work convention’s framework. Engender says that the document only briefly mentions issues that are familiar to gender advocates, including work/life reconciliation and the impact of women’s propensity to adopt caring roles, and it goes on to say that the 76-page framework does not engage with key, economy-wide gendered issues such as the undervaluation of work. I hope that, when the minister sums up, he will talk about those important issues and say how he will respond.


It is not an unreasonable aspiration to want work that is fair and to want such work to be available to everyone, no matter their background or their circumstances. Fair opportunities can break down labour market inequality, improve people’s life chances, create opportunities for social mobility and help to create a more equitable, inclusive and cohesive society. Although the Scottish Government has placed fair work and inclusive growth at the heart of its economic strategy, true fairness in the workplace is yet to be realised.

Prior to becoming an MSP, I was a divisional convener for Unison, and it was my responsibility and, indeed, my pleasure to stand up against injustice and inequality in the workplace. I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I remain a member of that trade union.

Since my election, I have continued to champion workers’ rights. However, it is incredibly frustrating that the bulk of the powers in that area are at the behest of a Tory Government—the party of employment tribunal fees, the pernicious Trade Union Act 2016 and Brexit. There are few areas on which Brexit has more potential to impact than that of workers’ rights. Protections such as the outlawing of discrimination against part-time and fixed-term workers, the right to rest breaks and the right to paid holidays and leave for working parents all derive from European Union directives.

The fair work convention defines fair work through five different dimensions:

“effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect”.

Each of those is essential not only for the employee but for society and the employer. Too often, however, opportunities and respect for minority and underrepresented groups are disregarded. On women, it remains an outrage that, in the UK, for every £1 that a man earns, a woman takes home 81p. On our ethnic minority population, it is scandalous that last year’s employment rate in Scotland was 74 per cent for white people but only 58 per cent for black, Asian and minority ethnic people. On our younger population, it is shameful that, by next month, workers aged 25 and over will be entitled to £7.83 an hour while under-18s will be entitled to £4.20 an hour and apprentices will be entitled to a pitiful £3.70 an hour. If we are serious about treating people fairly at work, we must ensure that they are paid fairly for that work, too.

Over the past few months, both in the Parliament and in the media, we have heard of outrageous practices being undertaken by unscrupulous employers. Indeed, as we debated in January, my Scottish National Party colleague Stewart McDonald MP sought to introduce to the United Kingdom Parliament a private members’ bill to outlaw unpaid trial shifts. The UK Government had the opportunity last Friday to show fairness and allow the bill to proceed, but sadly it was talked out. If Stewart McDonald’s bill had become law, it would have ensured that firms such as Mooboo were no longer legally permitted to ask trainees to work a full 40 hours for no pay and no guarantee of a job at the end of their trial period.

Other exploitative practices that have been evidenced recently occurred during the period of extreme weather earlier this month. Companies such as William Hill forced my constituents to travel to work despite the red weather warnings being in place or face losing a day’s pay. It is absolutely disgraceful that employers can compel people to work at times when the weather is deemed to be a threat to life, putting profits before people.

I welcome the agreement between the Scottish Government and the Scottish Trades Union Congress. They have announced that they will develop a fair work charter that focuses on the treatment of workers who are affected by such emergencies. It will include recognition that workers need an effective voice through a union to develop appropriate, flexible and fair approaches, and it will highlight examples of employers and unions working flexibly and constructively.

It is clear from the Government’s continual work with our union partners and the actions that it has taken that it is committed to ensuring that people are valued, rewarded and safe at their work, with equal opportunities to progress and succeed. Indeed, through the fair work convention and the fair work framework, the promotion of the Scottish living wage accreditation initiative and the creation of the Scottish business pledge, it is taking steps, where possible, to progress its fair work strategy. However, it is only by having full powers over business taxes, employment law, the minimum wage, health and safety and welfare that we will be better placed to create good quality jobs, grow the economy and lift people out of poverty.

Labour’s amendment speaks of the

“hypocrisy of the Scottish Government”.

The hypocrites here today are the Labour Party. If it truly considers that it is the party of the workers, it should back SNP calls for employment law to be devolved to this Parliament in order to make Scotland’s fair work ambition a reality.


As the motion that we are debating today recognises, fair work should benefit all individuals and create, sustain and nurture successful businesses and a thriving economy and society. Fair work is not simply an end in itself, but is a means towards a happier and more prosperous country.

Recently, the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, of which I am the convener, looked at one aspect of fairness, which is the gender pay gap. One aspect of that issue is the need to create a fair working environment in which underlying and often hidden causes of imbalances are addressed, to ensure that those who enter the workplace and want to go as high as they can, according to their ability, commitment and determination, have the opportunity to do so.

A lack of flexibility in the workplace can often prevent people from fully utilising their skills or opting for jobs that might be thought to underutilise skills, but actually meet the need for flexibility. Indeed, in evidence to the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee on Tuesday, Ewan MacDonald-Russell of the Scottish Retail Consortium said that within his sector, progression is too often prioritised over flexibility and that businesses are now trying to encourage people into more senior positions that allow them to balance other commitments. That is to be welcomed, particularly for women in that part of the business community.

Our committee also heard from witnesses that benefits such as flexible working carry the equivalent of 5 per cent of a salary: people can keep more of their hard-earned cash if they do not have to pay for childcare, for example. Again, that is to be welcomed. There is room in our digital, mechanised society to build flexibility into how we live our lives.

Shared paternity leave, which was introduced by the Conservative UK Government in 2015, adds in flexibility for parents to design childcare as they see fit. It allows for the possibility that fathers can play a greater role in raising their children, and means that mothers do not have to take long career breaks that may not work for them or their families.

That added flexibility and the benefits that it can provide were also highlighted in evidence given to the committee by Megan Horsburgh from Sodexo, who said:

“We know that flexibility is good not only for working women, but for men. In that regard, it fits incredibly well with our overall approach to gender balance, which is that a number of such initiatives benefit the whole organisation”.—[Official Report, Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, 28 March 2017; c 4.]

Those are modern and pragmatic ways of working that can make work not just fairer, but actually work for families.

At the end of a career, people want to be able to look back and know that the hard work that they have put in during their lives has been rewarded. The auto-enrolment scheme was introduced by the Conservative UK Government to encourage saving for retirement, particularly by young people and women—two groups for which the trend of saving for the future had been declining. As a result, workplace pension participation for women in the private sector has risen to 73 per cent in 2016 from a low of 40 per cent in 2012—the rate has almost doubled.

That is another example where a UK Conservative Government has increased fairness at work and has incentivised participation in the labour market.

To go back to comments that were made about howling across the chamber, I might agree with Patrick Harvie on one point, which is that the Scottish Government needs to have detailed and firm commitments on specific things to show how it is going to progress the aims that we would all agree on. I have set out the particular measures taken by the UK Conservative Government that have helped to do that and I look forward to hearing from the minister about what the Scottish Government is doing.

There is much to be done, but in the UK, we can work towards trying to create fair and rewarding work for everyone.


I believe that fairness in the workplace should be a right, not a benefit from or an advantage of working for a particular company or public body. Sadly, we know that that is not the case, even in 2018, thanks to the Tory Trade Union Act 2016, which drove a coach and horses through trade union rights and which Dean Lockhart seemed unable to defend. We are going backwards when it comes to basic employment rights.

Of course, that chipping away of union rights goes back to the Thatcher era, and it is just one of the horrible legacies that she left. Our society is now battling against the unfairness of zero-hours contracts, taking us back to Victorian times; unpaid work trials; instant dismissals; and the slashing of pension terms and conditions for public and private sector workers.

In January, I held a members’ business debate on unpaid work trials to highlight the members’ bill by my colleague Stewart McDonald MP that called for a ban on this exploitative practice. As we have heard, however, despite reassurances from Tory whips that filibustering would not happen, his bill was talked out by the Tories. That archaic practice is an outrage to democracy and symptomatic of a closed, defensive system that is not geared towards anything other than protecting the establishment.

I absolutely agree with my colleague’s comments about what happened to the bill, but does she agree that the Scottish Government should use the powers that it has to exclude organisations that exploit in these ways from accessing public money?

I was just about to say that I am looking forward to hearing about how we can use the powers that we already have to prevent such practices. Anything that we can do should most certainly be done.

What happened with my colleague’s bill was disgraceful, and it tells us a lot about Tory values and attitudes towards fair working practices. It is another powerful example of why employment powers should be devolved to this Parliament—it will help to make Scotland a fairer, more equal society in which to live and work. Forcing young people to work unpaid amounts to £1.2 billion in missing wages—money that goes straight into employers’ pockets. It is simply not acceptable, and I look forward to hearing about the powers that we have to crack down on it.

It is widely known that the hospitality industry is a terrible offender with regard to fairness in the workplace. Unite the union is working very hard to eradicate the exploitative way in which workers are treated by, for example, educating young people on how they can stand up for themselves and what rights they have in this often exploitative environment.

Workers’ rights are under attack as never before. In my local authority area of East Dunbartonshire, the Tory and Liberal Democrat administration has slashed council workers’ pension terms and conditions, imposing the worst kind of austerity. The irony is that such a move will make no savings. It is therefore entirely doctrinal—it is not about making the budget balance. I have to say that I am baffled by the logic of actions such as cheating workers who have spent decades in public service of a fair pension—which is, of course, not a benefit, but a right.

Despite the Scottish Government’s fair work initiatives, which the minister outlined, Brexit is casting an extremely dark shadow over employment rights. We know what happens when Tory Governments are left unfettered, and it never benefits ordinary working people.

Like Clare Haughey, I find it incredible that, in this day and age, equal pay for women is still an issue that we are fighting for and that historical pay claims have still not been settled. There is simply no justification for women who do the same job as men not being paid the same. I believe that time is up on this issue and women who are historically owed money must be paid now.

Of course, “Time’s Up” and “Me Too” are powerful slogans of the bid to end the disgraceful sexual harassment that, as has come to light, is happening in workplaces pretty much everywhere. This incredible movement gives me hope that my granddaughters will not have to endure what generations of women before them had to.

For me, the stand-out word in the Government’s motion is “respect”. Until there is mutual respect between employers and their employees, the battle for a fair workplace has a long way to go. According to the Poverty Alliance, when people with experience of living on a low income were asked their views on employment, one of them said:

“A good job is something that you have a passion for ... It gives you more than money—it gives me qualifications and training, it builds ... confidence and self-esteem. That’s the kind of jobs we need.”

I believe that as a Parliament, despite our having limited or no power over workers’ rights, we have to stand up for them whenever we can and reassure people that Scotland will be a fairer place to work, once we are free of Tory control.


The fair work convention has been welcomed by Labour, as it provides a framework for an approach to the labour market that respects the workforce and sets out high aspirations for the future. As such, we support the Government motion, but not without criticism.

Decent work, security of employment and investment in the workforce of the future are all prerequisites to tackling poverty and inequality. However, the effectiveness of the fair work framework needs constant scrutiny and, if progress is not being made, the Scottish Government must be held to account. Scottish Labour believes that a values-led public procurement strategy, which ensures that contracts are awarded only to companies that have acceptable minimum standards, would help to eradicate many bad employment practices.

If we are to ensure that all members of a workforce have equal access to the fair work convention principles of opportunity, respect, security, fulfilment and an effective voice, we must acknowledge the diversity of the workforce. Respect in the workplace must include a complete rejection of sexual and racial harassment, and a culture that belittles or humiliates of the workers must be challenged. If we are to ensure an effective voice for workers, trade union membership should be encouraged and adequate facility time for trade union representatives should be provided. I welcome the Government’s announcement in that regard, but the SNP council in West Dunbartonshire has just reduced trade union facility time, which is a decision that goes against the principle of the framework. We need some comment on that.

We must see evidence that all partners in the fair work convention are encouraging trade union membership, particular in sectors that have traditionally had low levels of representation, such as social care, childcare, catering and cleaning. That is important, because trade union recognition leads to improvements in pay, terms and conditions, health and safety, and workforce retention.

As the Scottish Government rolls out the expansion of the early years and childcare workforce, we all have an interest in ensuring that that sector complies fully with the fair work framework. A Unison Scotland report identifies growing pressures on early years workers—who are mainly female—as services are adjusted and expanded to meet the current childcare offer of 600 hours. The report also highlights the importance of maintaining high standards of care to meet the new targets. A stable, well-qualified, well-paid workforce, with good terms and conditions, is essential, but concerns are already being raised about the difficulties of staff retention in the private day nursery sector and the voluntary sector. Poorer terms and conditions in a sector with low trade union recognition will undoubtedly affect service delivery. As such, Unison and the STUC have argued for greater investment in local authority provision to allow for longer term planning and job security.

The fair work convention must look at sectors such as childcare in more detail. Trade union membership should be actively promoted, because it is a key component in ensuring that low-paid, often isolated women workers have an effective voice and access to representation. I look forward to hearing the minister’s assurances on that.

Prior to the debate, Oxfam Scotland circulated a helpful briefing for members, which pointed out that a decent job should be a universal right. I agree. I endorse Oxfam Scotland’s call for more attention to be paid to the gender differences in the workplace, and its acknowledgement of multiple discrimination. The minister’s commitment on gender is welcome, particularly since 24 per cent of working women in Scotland earn less than the living wage, compared to 15 per cent of working men. In other words, nearly a quarter of all women in employment in Scotland are on unacceptable poverty pay. We need to focus specifically on improving the quality of work for women.

Although the commitment from all partners in the fair work convention is bringing change to the workplace, the Scottish Government has a specific role to play in leading by example and enforcing the fair work commitments in all public contracts.

Does Elaine Smith agree that if we had the ability to insist upon the payment of a proper living wage it would be an important tool in our armoury? Will she support that power coming to the Scottish Parliament?

I feel that we have extensive powers already. On that point, no more public money should be spent on contracts to employers who do not treat workers with respect, no more public money should be spent on contracts to employers who blatantly disregard the Scottish Government’s guidance on the living wage, and no more public money should be spent on contracts to employers who do not recognise trade unions or who blacklist workers for trade union activity.

Presiding Officer, 1888 was an interesting year. Celtic Football Club played its first match, the Scottish Labour Party was founded and it was the year that the match girls were on strike. Bryant and May was far from a fair work employer to its mainly female workforce, including by docking their pay for going to the toilet. However, 130 years later, the Oxfam report tells us that women who work in call centres are questioned and humiliated for going to the toilet. Surely that is not the kind of 21st century Scotland that any of us wants. We need decent work as a protection from poverty. We need action on bad employers. We need an assurance from the Scottish Government that fair work is not just fine words.


Building greater fairness in the workplace is good for society and the economy. Ensuring that everyone is treated with fairness, respect and support in the workplace is the right thing to do and allows individuals to fulfil their potential. Staff feeling valued, respected and fulfilled means lower staff turnover, fewer absences from work and higher overall productivity. That is good for society and the economy.

Building fairer workplaces also ties in with our efforts to tackle wider systematic inequalities. For example, flexible working practices contribute to tackling gender inequality. Unfortunately, the current lack of flexible working opportunities means that a significant number of well-qualified people become trapped in low-paid and part-time work because they need flexibility but cannot find a quality part-time or flexible job. That has a particular impact on women.

We can address some of the challenges that carers face by better supporting them to balance work with their caring responsibilities: The carer positive employer initiative, which is funded by the Scottish Government and has been developed with the support of private, public and voluntary sector organisations, is an excellent resource for that. It is proving hugely successful in raising awareness of what being carer positive means as well as the benefits of that for business. Those include avoiding recruitment costs, retaining experienced staff and reducing staff absences.

When it comes to building fairer workplaces, another important group is young people. It is crucial that, at the beginning of their working lives, young people who are ready and willing to work are treated with respect and encouraged, not left disillusioned and demotivated. That means paying them a fair wage for a fair day’s work, including any trial or probationary periods.

I share colleagues’ contempt at the disgraceful behaviour of the UK Tory Government in blocking the efforts of my SNP colleague Stewart McDonald to ban the exploitative practice of unpaid trial shifts. I am sure that all of us in the chamber—well, most of us, anyway—will continue to make the case for the ban, as well as arguing for young people’s right to be paid the real living wage and to have a range of opportunities available to them, whether that is wider access to higher education or expanded provision of high-quality apprenticeship pathways.

Does Ruth Maguire agree that it is important, as the minister outlined, to examine the definition of positive destinations for young people?

Absolutely. I agree with that.

Building fairer workplaces is clearly good for employees, their families and our communities. It is also good for employers and for business. Recruiting from a wider pool of talent and retaining healthy, motivated staff who feel supported will make for more successful organisations.

I was pleased to read, in the 2017 progress report on the fairer Scotland action plan, that many of those points are being addressed. For that, the Scottish Government deserves to be commended. In October 2017, the target of 1,000 accredited living wage employers was met. The Scottish Government has also increased funding for the Scottish living wage accreditation initiative.

On flexible working, the Scottish Government continues to fund the family-friendly working Scotland partnership—an organisation with which I have worked closely in my constituency. This afternoon, it is in Glasgow, celebrating the Scottish top employers for working families awards. I congratulate all the winners of those awards and wish them a successful afternoon.

In September, a key commitment of the fairer Scotland action plan was delivered with the launch of the flexible jobs index Scotland. The index was based on research undertaken by Timewise, which analysed the flexible jobs market in Scotland for the first time and showed that the demand for flexible working outstrips the supply. That means that there is a significant opportunity to grow the flexible jobs market, which has benefits for employers and workers alike. I was pleased to lead a member’s business debate on that topic back in September and to commit to continuing to raise awareness of the issue in the Parliament and at home in Irvine, Kilwinning and Stevenston.


I refer members to my entry in the register of members’ interests, as I am a business owner.

In the short time that I have today, I will highlight a debate that has been going on for many years. It is one in which I took an interest quite a long time ago and one that has a role to play in building greater fairness in the workplace. It is slightly technical, so I hope that members will bear with me.

The issue is human capital, which is the skills, knowledge and experience that are possessed by an individual or group and that are viewed in terms of their value. When coupled with effective human resource management, human capital is a vital tool for achieving fairness in the workplace and inclusive growth.

I speak from a position of relative experience. Having owned and run businesses for more than 30 years, I have seen at first hand the ways in which human capital and human capital accounting can create rewarding, equitable opportunities for workers, employers and businesses.

Currently, the value of human capital is not recorded anywhere in the financial statements of an organisation, nor can it be created as an intangible asset. In fact, human capital is not owned by an organisation at all, but rather by its employees. That is why investments in human capital are charged as an expense in the period incurred—no quantifiable asset is created. That leads to the irony that investment in training and better conditions of employment can weaken a company’s balance sheet, particularly in the short term.

By accounting for human capital, companies would potentially become much more transparent. By incorporating employees as assets, there is greater impetus for a company to invest in its staff by providing family-friendly policies, flexible working and opportunities for personal development. Factors such as staff retention and development would impact on a company’s value, which would encourage employers to invest in their staff and build organisational loyalty at all levels.

We know that, in Scotland, small and medium-sized enterprises constitute more than 99.4 per cent of private businesses, provide 1.2 million jobs and account for 55 per cent of private sector employees. SMEs are the backbone of our economy. The vision of the fair work convention refers to a world-leading working life for all people in Scotland, including those who work for smaller employers. We must create a positive environment for employers that encourages and supports entrepreneurial spirit and rewards success. Those employers are often people who have taken the greatest amount of risk—they have invested their money, have created jobs and have often provided their homes as security for their businesses. By utilising human capital and effective HR practices in SMEs, employers can also feel the benefits by reaping the rewards of enhanced productivity, with engaged staff being more likely to remain with the company.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will, as long as it is quick. I do not want to run out of time.

I will give you your time back.

Michelle Ballantyne has mentioned productivity and staff retention, and I agree with her on those points. Does she recognise the link that many people have made between paying a proper living wage and staff retention and productivity? Does she agree that the two go hand in hand?

Yes, I agree that there is a link. If people cannot earn enough to survive and pay their bills in the job that they are in, the impetus is on them to look for something else, so there is a link to retention.

In a recent study by HR magazine, Gill Crowther, the HR director at a British SME called Nominet, said:

“I would encourage SMEs to think about people earlier rather than later because, once it’s gone wrong and you’ve got 150 disengaged people, it’s hard to put right.”

Daisy Group, which is a communications service provider that recently evolved from an SME into a major firm that employs 1,500 people, has seen the value of that approach at first hand. Steve Smith, the firm’s finance director, notes:

“HR used to be an administrative function ... We used to have to recruit senior people externally because we didn’t have them ready; now we want to grow them internally. Where we used to think about recruitment, now we think about retention.”

That approach not only helps a company to grow but can increase job security for employers and employees alike. Although many SMEs are shy of such approaches, because they view them as bureaucratic, once they are implemented they can really help companies.

Alongside that, I would like an anonymous applications system to be introduced, in which a candidate’s name, race and gender are not made available and, therefore, only the best-suited candidates are shortlisted. Employees would be selected on merit in a fair and transparent process. Deloitte recently recommended such an approach and noted that the Australian state of Victoria is leading the way in removing all personal details from job applications, thus ensuring that each person is assessed on their human capital.

Deloitte also suggests that organisations would benefit from expanding the definition of diversity beyond demographic and social identities to cover the full range of human capital. Research shows that one of the biggest sources of bias in companies is a lack of diversity of thought. I feel that, by taking a more objective approach, some of that bias can be addressed.

Human capital and its associated systems should be a major step towards preparing our economy and workplaces for what I see as the fourth industrial revolution. We need to assess how people can be best deployed and how they can be helped to grow as part of a system that values and recognises their contributions.

Whatever the future may hold, it is clear that our current methods for evaluating and valuing our workforces are unfit for purpose.

You must stop. The intervention took only 15 seconds—I timed it precisely.


I welcome the debate and commend the intention of our Scottish Government to bring our Parliament together on the fair work agenda. Indeed, I believe that the Government’s motion is worded precisely to maximise support across political parties and to drive political consensus. I suspect that the STUC would support that, as well as all fair-minded employers.

The Labour amendment, however, appears deliberately designed specifically to divide and shatter any kind of consensus. It bears no relation to reality and is overtly tribal. However, I will not take that approach. As I did last week, in a similar debate, I will note two positive SNP initiatives.

In Glasgow, low-paid female care workers are to be brought back into council control from Cordia by an SNP administration at a cost of £2.5 million. That cost is a result of a decision by the SNP council to pay those female workers appropriately, unlike the previous Labour administration—that was appalling. Again in Glasgow, it has taken an SNP administration to address Labour’s equal pay scandal. That situation saw women being discriminated against for many years.

For Labour to use the word “hypocrisy” in an amendment for the second time in a week shows absolutely no self-awareness. I can smell the hypocrisy from the Labour benches.

I am relieved that the member has chosen not to be tribal about these issues. What is his view of the decision of the SNP council in Glasgow to double childcare costs, and what impact does he think that that decision will have on families who are trying to organise their working lives?

I had a look at the relatively small increase per hour in childcare costs in Glasgow, but I see that a motion is going to the SNP administration in Glasgow City Council to give additional free hours to the poorest families in relation to that rise. I note that we do not hear Labour talking about that.

Much has been made of the role of trade unions in this debate, and rightly so. The STUC sits at the heart of the fair work convention and the development of a fair work framework. In that regard, I note that the Scottish business pledge contains a commitment to implement the living wage and end abusive zero-hours contracts. I share the frustrations about the fact that more businesses have not signed up to that—of course I do. We want more businesses to sign up to that. However, it is evidence of positive work by the Scottish Government.

Will the member take an intervention?

I apologise, but there are time constraints.

Unions—as positive, proactive and collegiate partners—are a vital part of our social fabric. However, they are under attack as a result of the UK Trade Union Act 2016, which aims to make it unfairly difficult for workers to withdraw their labour if they choose to. That is an attack on people’s human rights. It also places unreasonable restrictions on the ability of union representatives to represent fellow employees.

Will the member take an intervention?

I apologise, but I just do not have time.

The Scottish Government has no power to strike down the 2016 act, despite the fact that the Scottish Parliament refused to pass a legislative consent motion to sign up to it. As we do not have the real powers to address the matter in this place, we sought to—I am getting sick of this word—mitigate the impact of the act. The Scottish Government gave £2.2 million to trade unions to enable them to access lifelong training and learning opportunities to boost fairness and equality, and it invested £250 million in a trade union modification fund. That is real, active help to support trade unions.

Industrial action happens. The colleges dispute was not that long ago, and it took an SNP Government to foster the environment in which collective bargaining happened in Scotland’s college sector. That is the reason why it happened. Unpromoted lecturers in Scotland who are at the top of their pay scale are now on around £40,000 a year because of the strength of trade unions in collective bargaining with their employers. That created political problems for the Scottish Government along the way, but we knew that it was the right thing to do.

The Government’s track record is in building capacity and in respecting and valuing workers and their representatives. The college sector is a perfect example of that. The Scottish Government is doing everything within its powers to promote and foster the fair work agenda.


Members may be aware that I have spoken in the Parliament before about precarious work, its impact on all too many people across our communities and its disproportionate impact on young people. There is no guarantee of hours with such work; people are brought into work and then sent home without pay; tips are not distributed; shifts are changed at short notice; and there are no guarantees of training or access to rights.

We often hear the words “choice” and “flexibility”, but the reality is that the choice and the flexibility are almost invariably on the employer’s side and there is very little choice or flexibility on the employee’s side. We ought not to pretend that zero-hours contracts allow people to somehow have the flexibility in their working lives to allow them to do other things. That is very rare. Very often, people in those precarious situations have little or no choice but to accept whatever is given to them.

I heard what the minister said about the living wage—and I welcome it—but that is not sufficient in itself. It is important, but it is one part of a broader picture. We need to understand the lived reality of all too many of our fellow citizens, and we need to think about how we can give effect to the statements in the motion: that we commend the good and condemn the bad. Saying that is the easy bit; we need to think about how we can deliver it so that people in the real world understand that things are better for them.

I congratulate the better than zero campaign and Unite the union in particular on the work that they have done to address precarious work, especially in the hospitality field. It is often exceptionally difficult to recruit members who do such work. People are anxious about even admitting that they are a member of a trade union. The idea that they could bargain and debate their rights is a chimera away in the distance that is not their lived experience. It is important that we listen to those organisations as they expose unacceptable work practices that are faced by all too many—particularly our young people.

When the snow fell, our awareness of the lack of rights of all too many workers became evident. People lost wages and were under phenomenal pressure to get to work. That is what those pressures are like all the year round. Our commitment to tackle that injustice should not melt away with the snow.

It is clear that work must be done at every level of government. I was very supportive of Stewart McDonald’s Unpaid Trial Work Periods (Prohibition) Bill and was deeply disappointed that a Tory Government chose to talk it out without reflecting on what it said about the employment market. Young people can be brought into work without expecting even decent remuneration for that.

There is work to be done here, too. We will not agree on where employment law powers are best laid. My view—the trade union movement across the United Kingdom believes this—is that those powers should remain at the UK level. That is because I am concerned about the rights of workers across the United Kingdom. I do not think that people who disagree with me on that are hypocritical; they just take a different view on that particular issue.

I want to talk about positive destinations. I had not realised that I had been kind to the minister—that was uncharacteristic of me, and it rather took me aback. However, it is essential that we do not follow the UK Government’s approach with the simple equation that high levels of employment equals a strong economy. That cannot be so if the economy is built on precarious work, exploitation, uncertainty and stress.

Will the member give way?

I will give way in a moment.

I genuinely welcome what the minister said about the right to work of people with disabilities, including those with learning disabilities. I want to underline how central that issue should be in the work of the minister and his colleagues. Earlier today, I led a debate on Down’s syndrome awareness week in which I highlighted the focus of this year’s week, which is inclusion in employment. As I said in that debate, one parent has reflected:

“Nobody is aiming high for our kids.”

I wonder whether the minister has met Down’s Syndrome Scotland and, if not, whether he will consider meeting it and other organisations that work to ensure that people with Down’s syndrome and other disabilities have proper access to employment opportunities. I am sure that those organisations would welcome the opportunity to expand on the points that were made in that debate.

Those organisations have talked about the importance of having better data on positive destinations. Down’s Syndrome Scotland knows young people who have spent years at college without gaining employment. It is utterly unacceptable that the employment rate among people with learning disabilities is between 7 and 25 per cent. That is why the issue about positive destinations matters. Unless we are honest and ask searching questions about what is being defined as a positive destination, we will miss the truth about far too many young people who are stuck in certain places and who are not getting the opportunities that they deserve.

Come to a close, please.

In conclusion, I simply want to say—

Very quickly.

—that the challenge for us all is to lift the words in the motion off the page and into the lives of people across Scotland.


Fair work is essential in any democratic society. If people are paid and treated fairly and if they feel valued, they are always more likely to recognise the importance of meaningful employment. They are also much more likely to actually enjoy doing their job. As the motion states, the fair work convention

“considers fair work as central to achieving inclusive growth”.

The motion asks us to share the convention’s vision that, by 2025,

“people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life in which fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society”.

Glenrothes has suffered disproportionately in recent years from the effects of a lack of prosperity. In 2014, Velux windows announced 180 job losses. The town’s famous landmark paper mill, Tullis Russell, which provided jobs for generations of men and women, closed its doors in 2015. In 2016, FTV Proclad International announced that 70 jobs were to go. This January, the kitchens manufacturer Murray and Murray went into liquidation, with the loss of 40 jobs. Just last month, Dunnes Stores, which occupies the largest unit in the Kingdom shopping centre, announced its decision to close.

On top of the recent job losses and precarious employment opportunities, the poverty statistics in the biggest town in my constituency show that nearly one in three children lives in poverty. In the 2016 Scottish index of multiple deprivation, the Auchmuty, Dovecot and town centre areas were classed as the third highest in Fife in terms of recorded crimes.

If people take a drive further north to the town where I went to school—St Andrews—they will see the two tales of Fife. The town is the home of golf and of the third-oldest university in the English-speaking world. It is the home of money, investment and, crucially, jobs. Twenty years ago in Glenrothes, we had a bustling town centre, with shops and employment opportunities, but today our town centre, which is owned by private individuals in the form of Mars Pensions Trustees, is all but empty. I do not believe that we will be able to realise the ambition in today’s motion for Glenrothes until we get answers from those people.

Mars Pensions Trustees has six active officers listed on the Companies House website, but there is only one

“active person with significant control”,

which is actually another company that is called simply Food Manufacturers. The only active person with significant control in that company is another company, Effem Holdings Ltd, which Companies House asserts has no active persons with significant control. However, the one consistent individual who is associated with all three of those companies is Ian James Langer. Last year, following payment to all shareholders, Effem Holdings made a profit of nearly £2.3 million, and the appointment to it is just one of Mr Langer’s 103 appointments as listed on the Companies House website.

The debate is about creating the necessary conditions for fair work to prosper, but in Glenrothes we have an all-but-absent landlord and one who has been found wanting. That creates a feeling of worthlessness for businesses and staff, who feel that the town is locked in a downward cycle. However, the reverse is also true: if folk could see the fruits of their labour being invested in the fabric of the town rather than in the pockets of an elusive businessman, they might feel more motivated.

I therefore reiterate my invitation to the individuals who own the Kingdom shopping centre to come to the town that they own in our 70th anniversary year to play a part in helping to create the fairly paid jobs that we need to tackle inequality.

The fair work convention noted that:

“voice at task level, followed by participation in decision making, impact most on job satisfaction and psychological wellbeing.”

I have here proposals by Fife Council’s education service on an administrative and clerical review that it is carrying out. Secretaries are some of the poorest-paid and hardest-working people in our schools. The proposals, as they currently stand, will require staff either to jump down the pay scale or to study for a formal qualification and jump up it. They have either to take a pay cut or to jump right up the pay scale. There is no in between. They cannot stay still, and they will have to reapply for their jobs.

I find it difficult to believe that removing or reducing that support in schools will help in any way to close the attainment gap. In addition, there is a real fear at the moment in Fife that teachers’ workloads will be impacted upon. I have written to the head of education to raise this issue directly, but there has already been a hugely detrimental impact on this predominantly female workforce. One woman told me of bursting into tears at work; another told me how her headteacher does not want her to go; and another told me how the result of the proposals could be a £3,000 cut to her wages.

Fife Council has taken away that “participation in decision making” and has therefore directly impacted upon its employees’ psychological wellbeing, via a process that appears to have involved absolutely no consultation. Can members imagine what would happen if those secretaries were teachers? What would happen if teachers were told that they had to take a £3,000 pay cut or jump up in salary and forcibly complete additional training? Some of these women—the workforce is predominantly female—have worked in Fife schools for the best part of 30 years. That is a truly shameful way for any organisation to treat its employees, never mind a local authority that should know better.

In summing up, I have highlighted today the lack of fair work options in my constituency.

Sum up quickly, please.

I have highlighted poor employment practices in the form of Fife Council’s proposed cuts to school secretaries. I will close now.


As the Scottish Conservative spokesperson on disability and convener of the cross-party group in the Scottish Parliament on disability, I regularly meet disabled people and disability charities. One thing that they have all identified is the critical issue of employment.

There are 1 million disabled people in Scotland. Despite the employment rate improving and the advent of the Equality Act 2010, there is still a significant difference between the number of disabled people in employment—42 per cent—and the overall figure of 73.4 per cent. The statistics are even worse for those who have a learning disability. According to research undertaken by the Scottish Commission for Learning Disability, the employment rate for people with a learning disability sits at between 7 and 25 percent.

As Johann Lamont pointed out, the persistent lack of employment opportunities for people who have a learning disability is being highlighted as part of Down’s syndrome awareness week. The theme is inclusion in employment, because opportunities for paid employment remain limited and the transition from education to the workplace continues to be a challenge.

Young disabled people are often presented with few options on leaving school, and many of them are directed to day centres or courses at further education colleges. Down’s Syndrome Scotland knows of some members who spent years at college and still ended up with no job, and parents who agree to whatever is offered to them because of a lack of options and the fear that their child will end up with nothing else.

I agree with the charity that those outcomes can hardly be described as positive destinations. I have grave concerns that many colleges see disabled people as a cash cow and place them on a conveyor belt of courses with little regard for their long-term prospects.

Focus group research that was undertaken by Disability Agenda Scotland identified that disabled people, like most of us, see the importance of work as a source of income, as something to do for their wellbeing and as a way for them to feel that they can contribute to society. However, there are still many barriers that prevent disabled people from finding work and progressing in employment. Those barriers include negative attitudes from employers, inaccessible workplaces and inflexible working practices.

Research by the disability charity Scope revealed that one in five disabled people felt they could not disclose their disability. I attended the disability annual general meeting of one of the large public service organisations a few weeks ago, and was told that some people do not go for promotion, because they do not want to discuss their disability. A large employer here in Edinburgh has told me that it is committed to inclusive work, but only 4 per cent of its workforce is disabled.

I have met a number of employers who tell me that there is still a fear amongst many employees of disclosing that they have a disability. Employers tell me that disabled people are not applying for jobs, while many disabled people tell me they have given up applying for jobs because they have simply been unsuccessful.

Across the public and private sectors, we must look at the interview process. It is still a hurdle, and many hiring managers lack basic knowledge and training on disability. To be fair to the employers I have spoken to, many acknowledge that that is a problem but they are scared that they might say the wrong thing.

My discussions with employers, disabled people and disability groups have identified that one size does not fit all. We need lots of schemes and lots of help. Perhaps people do not understand where to get that advice. Perhaps, as the Federation of Small Businesses has suggested, the Scottish Government and the UK Government could come together in a single portal where all information on disability and employment could be brought together rather than people having to search through many different web pages.

As I have said before, disability is diverse. Many disabled people have conflicting needs, but such diversity is not an excuse to ignore disability in employment. To do so is unfair. With the devolution of employability programmes, there is a real opportunity to do things differently and provide better support to get disabled people into work. Disability does not mean inability. Disabled people have as much to offer as the rest of society.


Greater fairness in the workplace is about greater fairness in society. It is about understanding that although the social or economic values of what people do may be different, all contributions in the workplace are equal. That is why the living wage is so important: no matter what a person does, they should be rewarded fairly and properly.

I welcome the debate and I base what I say in it on my experience of working in the private, public and third sectors before being elected. I have done the extra unpaid hours in the office and cleaning up behind the bar. I have been paid below the living wage in several different roles, and I have done, as a teenager, the unpaid trial shifts that Stewart McDonald was trying to get rid of through his private member’s bill at Westminster.

We have talked about potential solutions, but perhaps we need to reflect on why the current unfairness exists. It is because of socioeconomic policy choices that have been being made for decades. It is because income inequality rose during the new Labour era. It is because working rights were weakened during the recent coalition Government, and it is because employment law has, in some ways, been weakened under the current UK Tory Government.

There has not been a negative impact just in terms of unfairness in the workplace; there are so many consequences. Income unfairness has been created, which leads to inequality in terms of people being able to afford the heightened and inflated cost of living, in particular when it comes to housing. The situation has created health equalities and has led to insecurity and overwork. It is important that is has also fundamentally damaged the quality of life of many citizens and workers.

Scottish Government action on the issue is so important—especially when it comes to encouraging as many employers as possible, including us as MSPs, to be living-wage employers. The business pledge sets out to enhance as much as possible fairness in businesses, particularly in the private sector.

Do you think that it is worth exploring conditionality, so that employers do not get credit for signing the business pledge unless they pay the living wage and guarantee rights in respect of training? We could explore that whole area, but do you have a view on the points that Patrick Harvie made in that regard?

I welcome the question and will shortly come on to the issue that Johann Lamont has raised. However, the issue that we need to consider is that the business pledge cannot be enforced in law here because we do not have proper powers over employment law in the Scottish Parliament, which puts us at a significant disadvantage. Johann Lamont said earlier that she supports employment law remaining at Westminster, but every day that employment law continues to be reserved to Westminster is a wasted chance to improve employment rights here in Scotland. The Labour Party should think seriously about that and support the calls for employment law to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament as soon as possible.

I thank Johann Lamont for her question because it leads me on to my next point. The discussion is about fairness in work and increasing growth and productivity, but there is not enough focus on the fact that the Scottish Parliament cannot act on the private sector and that 29 per cent of people who are paid less than the living wage work in the private sector. If we want to take robust action, we need to think seriously—especially the parties on the left—about uniting as much as possible to argue for those powers over the private sector to come to the Scottish Parliament, along with powers over company law, business taxes and as many social security powers as possible.

One of the biggest problems at the moment, which particularly affects people’s quality of life, is overwork. There are challenges regarding opt-outs from workers not having to work more than 48 hours a week, and I am seriously concerned about what would happen to protections in the working time regulations if we leave the European Union. We should think seriously about that.

The last of the open debate contributions is from Tom Arthur. You have a very tight five minutes, please, Mr Arthur.


I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak in the debate. I will begin by picking up on a remark that my friend and colleague Jenny Gilruth made in her speech, because I think that it is one of the most profound and important remarks in the entire debate. It was about the link between fair work and democracy.

I am sure that any student who left one of Jenny’s modern studies classes or any history teacher’s classes would be perfectly aware of the link between the lived experience of people through fair work and their economic circumstances, and their faith in democratic institutions—the lessons of the late 1920s and the 1930s speak to that. However, in our contemporary world, with the wave of nasty and violent xenophobic populism that has spread across the globe—be it the rise of Front National, Alternative für Deutschland, Trump or, indeed, Brexit—we cannot escape knowledge of the causal relationship between people’s economic circumstances and their experience of lack of fair work, and their sense of alienation and hopelessness that has led to decisions to embrace those ideologies. This debate is therefore of profound importance.

I will comment on a couple of remarks. I welcome Jamie Hepburn’s response to Johann Lamont’s intervention regarding positive destinations; specifically, that we are going to look at how outcomes are measured. That is to be welcomed as something that we can all agree on. I also welcome the action to increase uptake of the Scottish business pledge, because schemes like that are incredibly important. However, there are challenges in making the requirements compulsory; Patrick Harvie spoke of there being a high road and a low road in that regard.

There is a suite of high-road options, and one measure that I am particularly supportive of is the carer positive scheme, which my colleague Ruth Maguire referred to in her remarks. I led a members’ business debate earlier this year on the carer positive scheme. I encourage all MSPs to look into the scheme and to become accredited carer positive employers. The scheme will become more and more important, given that carers make up 17 per cent of the adult population and that 270,000 people—10 per cent of the working population—combine work and care. With the number of carers in Scotland expected to reach 1 million in the next 20 years, it is absolutely vital that our working environments adapt to ensure that carers have positive workplaces.

Another important scheme is the living wage accreditation scheme. Some points have been made about how we can ensure living wage accreditation in public procurement, and there are challenges and debates there, but I recognise the sincerity of members who want to see that scheme being applied down to subcontractors. One of the big issues is the fact that this Parliament does not have control over the national living wage. As has been described previously, the national living wage is something of a Tory con. It would be far better if this Parliament had those powers, then we would be able to deliver a real living wage for all employees. I join colleagues who are calling for devolution of the national living wage powers to this Parliament.

One of the key issues within that is age discrimination. As things currently stand, there is a national living wage of £7.50 an hour, but for someone who is 16 or 17 years old it is £4.05. My very first job was as a kitchen porter, some 16 years ago. I judged myself to be as capable of performing those onerous duties as any person of any age—indeed, more capable than some people who were older than me—but I was earning less than £3.50 an hour, just by dint of the fact that I was 16 years old.

The reality is that people under 25 will be paid less. My Westminster constituency colleague, Mhairi Black MP, is 23 years old, but she is a far more capable representative than some of the superannuated lobby fodder that graces the halls of the Palace of Westminster. Under the principles of the national living wage and the national minimum wage, she would be deemed less able.

There is much more that I would wish to say in this debate, but I will conclude my remarks by reiterating my support for the action that the Government is taking, and reiterating my calls, and the calls of others, for devolution of employment law and devolution of the national living wage to this Parliament.

We move to the closing speeches. I remind everyone that remarks should be addressed through the chair; that applies to interventions as well.


I have always believed in fairness in the workplace. As a former trade union official for GMB Scotland, that is what I have done for most of my career, but I believe that the aspiration in this Parliament to create the terms for a fairer workplace is more important now than it has ever been.

Good terms and conditions, a real living wage, a decent pension scheme, a policy for older workers as well as for younger workers, a fair workplace for workers with disability who need assistance, and workers’ ability to be represented by a trade union in their times of need against an employer when that is necessary are, for me, some of the key elements of fairness in the workplace. The imbalance between the employer and employees must be evened out, and there needs to be a radical overhaul of the status quo if we are to achieve that aspiration.

As we have discussed in other debates, the workplace will probably look quite different in the future, and I certainly hope that it will be more diverse. We have had debates about the ageing workforce, the automation of jobs and the prevalence of precarious employment, all of which are becoming normal in our society, which means that there is a great deal of work to do.

As Johann Lamont and others have highlighted in relation to zero-hours contracts and precarious employment, we know of 71,000 people who are on those types of contracts. Deep insecurity in employment is a blight on the economy, and it will stop the confidence of our economy if we do not bring a halt to precarious employment contracts. As Johann Lamont also said, for most workers, it is not really a choice to give up permanent hours, the right to sick pay and the right to have basic terms and holiday pay. That is not a choice that most people would make, but many people in precarious employment are forced into that situation.

The crash of 2008 is one of the underlying causes of our being where we are today. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies has said, wage stagnation will probably not be any higher in 2022 than it was before the crash. The Economist today dubbed the last 10 years as having the worst growth since the second world war. We cannot underestimate the loss of quality jobs in the decade since the crash. In fact, we cannot underestimate the number of highly paid jobs that were lost from the economy or the power that that gave some employers over more employees who were searching for work in a difficult economy. This month, Paul Johnson, the head of the IFS, said that the economy had

“broken UK record after UK record”

and that it is probably

“at least £300 billion smaller”

than it might have been had we not had the crash.

Sadly, it is workers who have been paying the price for the past 10 years. The exploitation of workers has to stop. For clarity, what the Labour amendment strikes at is a situation in which, whereas Jamie Hepburn says that it is perfectly legal for the Government to use agency workers, we say that it should make it clear in its contracts that it should not use such workers unless there is a clear case for that. It should make it clear that employers will not qualify for public sector contracts unless they pay the living wage, have trade unions in their workplaces and give the right terms and conditions. That is the power that the Scottish Government holds, and that is why it is in our amendment.

The gig economy that other members have talked about, involving unscheduled work, means that there is no way to challenge unfair dismissal and no rights to redundancy pay, paid holidays or sick pay. Such work is on an upward trend, with one in 10 workers now being in precarious work. We must act where we can, and we must act now. Other members have talked about young people and poorer people being forced into that type of work, which is a key reason for the widening inequality gap. It is not just about pay; it is also about rights. In the longer term, the power of many large employers over those seeking work in an unregulated framework will be a disaster for the economy.

Other members have talked about trade union membership, which, I am sad to say, is at an all-time low, with only one in five people being in a trade union. It is estimated that, by 2025, the figure might be as low as one in six people. That is not a good thing for the workplace or for workers. I am not absolutely clear where Dean Lockhart is coming from when he talks about trade union rights diminishing EU protections, but I would like to know about that. The Tory party has a history of wrecking trade union rights and has not stood up for trade unions in the workplace.

I listened carefully to Michelle Ballantyne’ speech and I will think about what she said, but I make this point to her: trade unions that, in most cases, behave reasonably and work in partnership with employers have proven that they contribute to the confidence of companies and businesses and that they can achieve much better outcomes as well as protect workers.

You must come to a close, please.

Presiding Officer, I cannot believe that I have had six minutes.

I hope that members will support the Labour amendment.

I call Jamie Halcro Johnston. See if you can speak for under six minutes, please.


I will give it a go, Presiding Officer.

I advise members of my entry in the register of members’ interests in that I am a partner in a farming partnership business.

The debate has been a welcome opportunity to consider approaches from around the chamber to improve employment practices as well as look at the changing shape of employment here in Scotland. There is a proud legacy to look back on: the factories acts, which outlawed racial discrimination; work to equalise pay and prevent discrimination on the basis of someone’s sex; and, a little more recently, work to outlaw discrimination against people with disabilities. Although many aspects of our employment law were developed in response to changing economic circumstances, they often went further than just adapting to the times. We made progress that built on what had been achieved by generations before, and we enhanced it.

One of the biggest challenges that technological progress has created in recent years is the expansion of the gig economy and casual work. Although that has reduced barriers to competition, it has increased self-employment and risks, weakening the protections that certain workers currently enjoy.

The Taylor review of modern employment practices, which the UK Government commissioned, is a wide-reaching and commendable piece of work.

Will the member take an intervention?

I will not have time to do so, I am afraid.

Ministers have made proposals that address the recommendations of the Taylor review. Indeed, the UK Government is going further in several areas. All workers will, for the first time, have the right to request a more stable contract, the right to a payslip and additional rights to holiday pay and sick leave. Our 1.2 million agency workers will have new rights to see any deductions from their pay. Such rights might be commonplace among full-time workers but they are the sort of security that people on flexible contracts need now.

The more flexible economy creates opportunities, increases competition and lowers prices for consumers. Nevertheless, we must not lose sight of the often hard-won assurances on which people in work depend. Fast-moving change such as automation has enormous benefits but risks making certain skills redundant. It is more essential than ever that a fair deal for people in work involves a greater focus on training and skills development, starting with careers guidance in school and continuing throughout a person’s working life.

Government has an important role in enabling and encouraging beneficial working practices. There are now almost 450 signatories to the Scottish business pledge, but that represents around 1 per cent of enterprises that operate in Scotland.

As Rona Mackay said, the Parliament and members of this Parliament, as employers, faced issues recently. I welcome the role that the Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee, of which I am a member, has taken in helping to address those issues. That should serve as a reminder that this institution should be a model of good practice and not an exception.

Pay is also important. Since the recession a decade ago, there has been substantial growth in employment, with more people having entered work and existing workers’ overall earnings having grown as they have taken on more hours or moved from part-time to full-time employment. However, wage growth remains a problem throughout the UK.

The national living wage, which was created in 2015, has been welcome. Increasingly, it is having an impact for many low-paid workers, growing numbers of whom have been removed from income tax by successive changes to the personal allowance. Enforcement of the minimum wage is also important, with increased fines as well as naming and shaming for employers who attempt to get round the law.

More widely, it is the Government’s role to look further into productivity growth and how best to create an economy that functions effectively. Many recent initiatives to support people on low pay have disproportionately benefited working women, who are more likely to work part time and who are still affected by a pay gap in relation to male workers.

Another challenge that we confront is occupational segregation. Just this week, a Skills Development Scotland report showed that only 13 per cent of people who go into foundation apprenticeships in STEM subjects are female. Even among those who are entering the workforce for the first time, such segregation is clearly an issue.

The Scottish Government’s motion mentions European Union law on workers’ rights. We reaffirm the UK Government’s commitment to enhance workers’ rights after Brexit and ensure that the same standards continue in domestic law. The United Kingdom already exceeds the minimum standards that are required by EU law. To take just a couple of examples, we have greater levels of annual leave and we have nearly four times the statutory maternity leave that EU law mandates. It is the UK, not the EU, that has been and will remain the key guarantor of workers’ rights.

My colleague Dean Lockhart spoke about good work and the Taylor review’s role in building fair employment across the UK. He also spoke about the key principles that we should embrace, such as job security, equal treatment, support and good employment terms and conditions. He talked about the role of parental leave and maternity pay, the gender pay gap and the benefits of increasing employment rates and improving industrial relations. Trade unions, at their best, are important champions of individual workers and rights in the workplace.

Gordon Lindhurst spoke about the work of the Economy, Jobs and Fair Work Committee, of which I am a member, including its inquiry into the gender pay gap. In particular, he mentioned the benefits of flexibility in the working environment, the advent of shared paternity leave and issues to do with childcare access. He also spoke of the growth in participation in workplace pensions. The participation in those pensions of women in the private sector has risen from 40 per cent in 2012 to 73 per cent in 2016, which suggests that more people will have greater security in their old age.

Michelle Ballantyne addressed some of the benefits of looking at human capital and talked about the role that human resources can play in ensuring fairness in our workplaces by improving staff retention and encouraging employers to recognise that their employees are assets in whom they should invest.

Jeremy Balfour spoke about the experience of disabled people and the barriers that they often encounter to finding work and progressing in it. As well as encouraging employers, it is clear that there remains scope for informing and supporting businesses that want to take on people with disabilities.

The northern isles, which are in my region, have the highest incidence of multiple sclerosis in the country. The MS Society contacted members ahead of the debate and pointed to the central importance of reasonable adjustments and some of the problems that people with certain conditions still face, as well as to the cost of losing people with such conditions from the workforce.

You must close, please.

Today, we celebrate some of the progress that has been made in improving fairness in the workplace and making real, practical change that improves people’s lives. However, a great deal of work remains to be done.

I call Keith Brown to wind up the debate. Can you take us to decision time, please, cabinet secretary?


In today’s debate, we have quite rightly heard a great deal about the protection of workers’ rights, the ability of workers to access opportunities and the value of their work to individuals, businesses, employers and our economy. It is quite obvious that fair work means different things to different people, but I think that, at its core, there is agreement that the principles should be based on human dignity, value and potential and that they should always look to balance the rights and responsibilities of workers and employers.

One of the intentions behind holding this debate was to see whether there is consensus in the Parliament on the principles of fair work. That possibility was completely blown out of the water when we saw the Labour Party’s amendment to our motion. That is extremely unfortunate. Patrick Harvie had it right when he spoke about how the completely overblown nature of the Labour amendment meant that it would be impossible to reach a consensus, even though there is consensus among not only a great number of the parties in the Parliament, but our trade union colleagues and others.

Despite that, we have had some very good speeches, particularly from the women in the chamber. Michelle Ballantyne’s points were well made, not least in relation to human capital. I do not want to put words into her mouth, but I am glad that she conceded the point about the real living wage being important for productivity and staff retention.

Rona Mackay made one of the most crucial points when she talked about the gender gap—that is a challenge for us—and how the really important word is “respect”. I recently met representatives of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation and some women who had suffered a terrible experience as a result of receiving not only low wages, but bad treatment from their employer. Although the living wage is very important to those women, they said that important thing was the message that it sends. To be paid less than other colleagues is disrespectful and the most demotivating aspect for women.

I will quickly try to address some of the points that have been raised, although I have less time in which to do so than some of the Opposition spokespeople had. Patrick Harvie spoke about the implementation of measures that he and his party have previously called for, not least in relation to regional selective assistance. He also mentioned that companies should comply with our aspirations when we provide support. That issue is being taken forward as a discrete piece of work in the area that he mentioned, but also more generally through the fair work action plan, which Jamie Hepburn mentioned.

Will the member give way?

I am sorry, but I really do not have time—I have only five minutes in which to sum up. I apologise for that, but I am happy to write to the member to flesh out that point more fully.

On Willie Rennie’s point about Amazon—which is also known as Neil Findlay’s publisher—it is true to say that I have had a conversation with it about its working practices. I should highlight that when Amazon said, as Willie Rennie mentioned, that a decision on practices would have to be taken elsewhere, I pointed out that it already paid higher wages in the south-east of England, so surely it could go along with the principle that it had established. We have kept up that dialogue, and the Minister for Employability and Training will shortly meet Amazon and take up those points again.

Gordon Lindhurst’s points about auto-enrolment in pensions were absolutely right. It is very important that all employers should observe the rules brought in by the Conservatives on auto-enrolment.

I agree with many of Johann Lamont and Elaine Smith’s points. However, we do not have any agreement on the fundamental point on what powers the Scottish Government has to take forward some of the measures. I do not agree with Johann Lamont’s point that we should wait until we have a UK Government that might want to take forward some of the measures before we can make progress in Scotland. In my adult life, the Tories have been in power for twice as many years as the Labour Party—26 as opposed to 13. However, when Labour was in power, it did not roll back the trade union legislation introduced by the Thatcher Government, so we are not getting progress elsewhere. People in Scotland should not have to wait to see real change or wait for employment law to be brought to this Parliament.

A number of members mentioned Brexit, which represents a huge challenge. I do not agree at all with the Conservative’s amendment and their point that they will protect the workers in Scotland or, indeed, the UK post-Brexit.

It is very important that we speak out when we do not agree. I do not agree with those people in the Labour Party, such as Jeremy Corbyn, who talk about importing cheap agency labour or who have mugs with comments on them about controls on immigration. That is not respect for the workforce and it is not respect for EU nationals, who are vital to our economy. If we are going to have respect for one group of workers, we should have respect for all groups of workers.

I met workers from other EU countries this morning in Glasgow, when I was announcing the creation of 314 jobs over the next three years. I spoke to a woman from Portugal who told me that EU workers realise what it means when people talk about not wanting imported agency labour or wanting controls on immigration. We must continue to value the employees that we have from the rest of the EU. We need those people, not least in the hospitality and leisure sectors.

Membership of the EU has secured the establishment of many of our employment rights and protections. In Scotland, our people, Parliament and Government have made clear our commitment to Europe, and we recognise the value of membership of the EU to Scottish workers and employers. We are pleased that the UK Government has voted in support of the social pillar. However, any legislative proposals emerging from the pillar are unlikely to be implemented prior to the UK’s departure from the EU. We would welcome early discussions about how the UK Government will go about adopting the principles that are set out in the pillar.

Despite the Labour Party amendment, I hope that in the future we will get some consensus on fair work. On the point made by Elaine Smith, the fair work convention is independent of Government and decides its own programme. I think that the issue that she raised will be examined by the fair work convention—although that is a matter for the convention to decide—and I would be happy to write to her to confirm that.

We have debate, but there is also a great deal of consensus among some of the parties in the Scottish Parliament. Where we can agree, it is really important that we send out the message that we are all in support of fair work in the workplace throughout Scotland.