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Labour Market Strategy (Employment Rights and Pay)

– in the Scottish Parliament on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

3. To ask the Scottish Government what steps it takes to ensure that its labour market strategy protects the rights and pay of people in sectors perceived as undervalued or insecure. (S5O-04288)

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The labour market strategy sets out the Scottish Government’s approach to delivering a fair and inclusive labour market that drives our country’s economy. The strategy, particularly its commitment to fair work, reflects all aspects of labour standards and supports the vision of Scotland becoming a fair work nation by 2025.

The Scottish Government has repeatedly called for the devolution of employment law, which is a position that is supported by the Scottish Trades Union Congress. Although employment law remains reserved to the United Kingdom Government, we will do all that we can within our current powers to protect workers, including those in precarious employment. For example, in 2019-20, we have promoted payment of the real living wage by increasing funding for living wage Scotland to £380,000, and we continue to encourage all employers to pay the real living wage, including through our procurement powers. We are targeting sectors with long-standing low-pay cultures, and we continue to reduce the gender pay gap to the smallest in any part of the UK.

We want to create a successful labour market that works for everyone by delivering fair work in which all employees are treated well and are paid a decent wage.

Photo of Sarah Boyack Sarah Boyack Labour

I very much welcome the fact that there is on-going work and that the STUC is being made aware of it.

Over the past few days, w e have reflected on how the care sector is undervalued, with short-term contracts, and there is a real challenge in making sure that we are resilient over the next few weeks. What work is the Scottish Government doing to redesign such sectors of employment so that we create new career opportunities and make employment that is currently perceived as undervalued or insecure more secure and properly valued so that, when have a shock such as we are having at the moment, people will still be in work and have jobs to go to?

I know that some work is being done in the care sector to reshape opportunities there. Will the minister undertake to look at that and to keep the Parliament updated on developments in the care sector and other sectors in which we could see meaningful change over the next few weeks and months?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Of course, we all recognise the huge importance of the social care sector, especially in these particularly difficult times. There are two parts to that. As Sarah Boyack will be aware, the Scottish Government is committed to rolling out the real living wage in that sector. We have been delivering that for a number of years, and we will continue to work with the trade unions to ensure that people in that sector are treated as they should be, according to fair work principles. There is also the longer-term ambition, to which we are hugely committed, of making those jobs more valuable and secure. That can be done through a range of activities, including innovation. As more technology comes into the sector, those jobs will become more valuable and more highly regarded. We are all committed to that, and the current situation drives that home.

The Presiding Officer:

Four members want to ask supplementary questions. If they are concise, we will get through them.

Photo of Angus MacDonald Angus MacDonald Scottish National Party

As the minister alluded in his initial answer, many aspects of employment are reserved, including pay. Does the minister agree that the full devolution of employment powers would better equip the Scottish Government to protect and improve workers’ rights?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Yes, of course I do. We have repeatedly called for that to happen and, as I highlighted, the STUC joins us in those calls. I encourage those parties in the Parliament that have not already done so to join us in making those calls, because the more of those powers we have devolved to the Scottish Parliament, the better able we will be to deliver for the workers we are talking about.

Photo of Neil Findlay Neil Findlay Labour

The minister says that we all recognise the importance of the care sector, but that is clearly not the case. If we did, it would not be a sector that is defined by low pay, insecure work and a lack of career structure. Care workers will look at us when we say such things and will want us to take action.

One way in which we could change the ethos and culture of care would be by returning to national collective bargaining. The employers and the trade unions want that. Will the Government facilitate that discussion with a view to returning to national collective bargaining so that we never again get in the position in which carers are treated as they are at the moment?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

The issue of collective bargaining is being addressed by my colleague Jamie Hepburn through the work that is being done around fair work first. A number of sectors have been identified to work with the STUC to map out the position on that and to understand how we can make progress, and I know that Jamie Hepburn is engaged in conversations to pursue that.

Photo of Sandra White Sandra White Scottish National Party

I want to ask about insecure employment. I have just received an email from workers at a large firm who are on zero-hours contracts. They have just been made unemployed and, naturally, they are very stressed and worried about that. How is the Scottish Government engaging with businesses to promote fair work practices at this very worrying time?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

With regard to zero-hours contracts, that legislation is reserved to the United Kingdom Government. The Scottish Government firmly opposes the inappropriate use of such contracts and other non-standard types of employment that offer workers little or no security. We continue to work to make progress on that agenda, where we have the power to do so, but the fact that the issue is entirely reserved makes it difficult for us to move forward as far or as fast as we would like to.

Photo of Claire Baker Claire Baker Labour

On the subject of insecure and underpaid work, the minister will be aware that people who work in the creative sector are often expected to work for nothing, by virtue of their performances being free, or are extensively underpaid for the work that they produce. Will the labour market strategy work recognise the issues that have been identified in that sector?

Photo of Ivan McKee Ivan McKee Scottish National Party

Yes, that sector will be considered by the labour market strategy. I refer to my earlier comments: the Scottish Government is opposed to the inappropriate use of zero-hours contracts and other non-standard types of employment that offer workers little or no job security. We intend to work with the STUC and others to address that issue as best we can, given the powers that we have in this Parliament.

The Presiding Officer:

Questions 4, 5 and 6 have been withdrawn.