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It mostly covers my work as UNISON Scotland's Head of Policy and Public Affairs although views are my own. For full coverage of UNISON Scotland's policy and campaigns please visit our web site. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Thursday, 14 January 2016

Taking the high road to better work

The Scottish Government can support good quality employment by ‘blocking the low-road’ for employers and ‘paving the high-road’ towards an empowered and healthy workforce.

That’s the conclusion of the Scottish Parliament’s Economy Committee in its report into the quality of work in Scotland; “Taking the High Road - Work, Wages and Wellbeing in the Scottish Labour Market.”

The Committee concluded that workers across Scotland are entitled to good quality employment. This should offer workers, as standard:
regular and sufficient pay which allows for a decent standard of living;
secure employment;
safe working conditions;
working hours known and mutually agreed in advance of shifts;
a culture of mutual respect;
training opportunities and routes for advancement; and,
employee engagement in company/organisational decisions.

Underpinning all of their recommendations is the need for the Scottish Government, employers and trade unions to work together to drive up employment standards and eliminate bad practice. 

That starts with a commitment to ‘blocking the low-road’ for employers and ‘paving the high-road’ towards an empowered and healthy workforce. At the heart of this should be a firm commitment towards employee engagement and encouraging the strong management and leadership skills needed to involve the workforce in improving its own wellbeing. They expect the Scottish Government to embed these aims in all of the employment and business support programmes it funds.

The ‘High Road - Low Road’ concept comes from the evidence of Professor Chris Warhurst, who detailed the difference between high-road economies focused on high-skills, and low-road economies focused on low-skills and low wages. He explained:
“It is possible to prevent people from moving down from the high road to the low road, but the key question for the UK is how we move from the low road to the high road. There are two ways of thinking about doing that. One is to block off the low road ... The other is to pave the high road … in order to encourage companies to go down it.”

The report references a number of UNISON initiatives including the Ethical Care Charter. A point made sharply yesterday with the data released by Gordon Aikman on those dying while they wait for care packages.

The Scottish Social Services Council (SSSC) also highlighted the impact low paying work can have on service users and patients who relied on continuity of care, they said: “Low pay can exacerbate staff turnover issues and ultimately affect the ability to provide continuity of care. A continuous caring relationship with an identified professional can be particularly important in many instances. For example, it can be vital when supporting an individual with dementia.”

Employers organisations like the Coalition of Care and Support Providers in Scotland (CCSPS) estimated that recruitment costs in the care sector amount to £3,500 for each new worker and that the sector suffers relatively high staff turnover rates. This was confirmed by the UK Home Care Association who said there is an average staff turnover rate of 38%. 

Another long standing UNISON concern has been the impact of work on mental health in the workplace. The Committee was concerned to see the mounting body of evidence demonstrating the link between low quality work and negative health outcomes. They urged the HSE, government and councils to explore how the monitoring and reporting of mental health impacts in the workplace could be made more effective.
The Committee also recognised the damaging impact the Trade Union Bill could have quality employment and in particular employee engagement. They said: “We believe that any further restriction on trade unions in fulfilling their longstanding roles, such as contained within the Trade Union Bill, would be damaging”.


This report is a useful analysis of quality employment that recognises the problem of definition and poor Scottish labour market data. However, they resisted the temptation simply to call for more research. Instead, they set out a roadmap towards better employment standards. This should inform the work of the Fair Work Convention and UNISON Scotland submitted its ideas to that body this month. There is a broad consensus on the way forward; the next stage is to turn that into action.

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