With its publication of Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy, the Scottish Government is trying to create a “fair work” economy – where business development and growth goes hand-in-hand with development and growth for all of Scotland’s people. The vision of Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy is a growing economy “where fair work is central to improving the lives of individuals and their families”.
I am no political analyst, but it might be argued that this focus on a fair work economy offers a middle way between the laissez faire” capitalism that has driven our economy (and arguably an increase in inequality) in recent years, and a centralist “command and control” approach advocated by some.
Scotland’s Labour Market Strategy draws heavily on the Fair Work Framework, published by the Fair Work Convention in March 2016 and supported by the Scottish Government.
The vision of the Fair Work Convention is that “by 2025, people in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society”.
To try and move the economy towards this the Fair Work Framework provides five elements of “fair work”. These are effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect. However the framework is rather vague on what it means by these terms and provides no real guidance to business on how to achieve them.
At the same time the Scottish Government supports the Scottish Business Pledge, a voluntary code of business practice under which employers commit, over time, to meet nine commitments:
1. Paying the living wage
2. Not using exploitative zero hours contracts
3. Supporting progressive workforce engagement
4. Investing in Youth
5. Making progress on diversity and gender balance
6. Committing to an innovation programme
7. Pursuing international business opportunities
8. Playing an active role in the community
9. Committing to prompt payment
Clearly the five elements of the Fair Work Framework envisage a very similar landscape to the nine commitments of the Scottish Business Pledge, but neither organisation currently provides any guidance on how they map across each other. I will attempt that mapping in this article.
The first element of the Fair Work Framework is Effective Voice. “Effective Voice requires a safe environment where dialogue and challenge are dealt with constructively and where employee views are sought out, listened to and can make a difference”.
The Framework argues that “Effective Voice encourages employees to engage with the organisation and put forward views and ideas in ways that can stimulate change and improvement”. Examples of mechanisms that can help deliver this are given as “approaches to trade union recognition and collective bargaining; direct and indirect involvement and participation; communication and consultation arrangements and procedures that give scope to individuals and groups to air their views, be listened to and influence outcomes”.
Effective Voice in the Fair Work Framework maps most closely to Supporting Progressive Workforce Engagement in the Scottish Business Pledge.
The second element of the Fair Work Framework is Opportunity. “Fair opportunity allows people to access and progress in work and employment and is a crucial dimension of fair work”. Opportunity, therefore, is about equality and diversity in the workplace. The Framework states that “attitudes, behaviours, policies and practices within organisations – and, crucially, the outcomes these produce – signal and reflect the value placed on fair opportunity” [by the organisation].
Examples of ways of developing Opportunity given in the Framework include “recruitment and selection procedures, internship arrangements, training and development approaches and promotion and progression procedures and practices”.
Opportunity in the Fair Work Framework maps closely to Making progress on Diversity and Gender Balance and Invest in Youth in the Scottish Business Pledge. It also links to Playing an active role in the Community.
The third element of the Fair Work Framework is Security: “security of employment, work and income are important foundations of a successful life”. The Framework makes that point that “security plays an important role in behaviours and attitudes within workplaces and therefore can generate important benefits for employers”. These benefits include willingness to engage in change and improvement, and reduced employee turnover.
The Framework suggests that Security can be supported through “building stability in to contractual arrangements, adopting at least the Living Wage, giving opportunities for hours of work that can align with family life and caring commitments, employment security agreements, fair opportunities for pay progressing, sick pay and pension arrangements”.
Security in the Fair Work Framework, therefore, maps closely to Paying the Living Wage and Not using exploitative zero hours Contracts in the Scottish Business Pledge. It also links to areas already mentioned including Diversity and Progressive Workforce Engagement.
The fourth element of the Fair Work Framework is Fulfillment. The Framework states that “all types of work at every level can be fulfilling where the tasks, work environment and employment conditions taken together are well aligned to the skills, talents and aspirations of the people who carry it out”.
Fulfillment is a difficult one to define (let alone measure). The Framework argues that it is about providing “the opportunity – individually and collectively – to learn, to use talents and skills, to engage in challenging activities, to solve problems, to take responsibility and to make decisions”. As such, Fulfillment in the Fair Work Framework, maps to commitments in the Scottish Business Pledge already mentioned including Making progress on Diversity and Gender Balance, Invest in Youth and Playing an active role in the Community.
The Fair Work Framework suggests that organisations can support Fulfillment “through forms of job design and work organisation that focus on effective skills use, autonomy, opportunities to problem solve and to make a difference; investment in training and development and cross-learning. Health, safety and well-being policies and practices also have an important role to play in generating fulfilling work and in influencing work pace and intensity”.
The fifth and final element of the Fair Work Framework is Respect. “Respect involves recognising others as dignified human beings and recognising their standing and personal worth”. Respect, the Framework argues, includes “ensuring the health, safety and well-being of others”.
Respect, then, is closely linked to the other four elements of the Fair Work Framework. An organisation cannot show respect for its people without, for example, addressing issues of Security and Opportunity. And it would be difficult to demonstrate Respect without providing employees with an Effective Voice or the opportunity to achieve Fulfilment in their work.
Consequently, the Framework suggests that Respect is supported through “organisational policies and practices on dignity at work, … engagement with respect as a key organisational value, communication, training, managerial and supervisory approaches, approaches to conflict resolution and employee voice”.
Respect in the Fair Work Framework, does not directly map to any separate commitment in the Scottish Business Pledge. However, it is implied in all the commitments in the Pledge.
The five elements of the Fair Work Framework focus entirely on employee relations and working conditions. The Scottish Business Pledge contains commitments that map closely to these elements of Fair Work, as we have seen. The Pledge also contains commitments that seek to drive business development. These are Committing to an Innovation Programme; Pursuing International Business opportunities; and Committing to Prompt Payment of Suppliers.
I suggest that there is some work to be done by the Fair Work Convention and others within the Scottish Government to develop the Fair Work Framework so that it provides a clearer view on how organisations can actually develop themselves to offer a fairer working environment while also making the most of business development opportunities in a challenging environment.
It is worth remembering, also, that Investors in People has been working to a very similar vision to that provided by the Fair Work Framework for 25 years. While IIP doesn’t explicitly address pay rates and contractual terms, the issues of opportunity, diversity, fulfilment, and engagement are all central to Investors in People. There must, therefore, be considerable lessons to be learned from the experience of Investors in People in working with organisations (strengths and weaknesses) that would help inform the Scottish Government on how best to deliver a fair work economy.