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Building a framework for fair work

By Patricia Findlay - Posted on 13 April 2016

The Fair Work Convention was set up to drive forward a fair work agenda and produce a Framework to promote fairer workplaces across Scotland. Professor Patricia Findlay is a member of the Convention which launched the Framework at Strathclyde University in March. Here, she summarises what the Framework sets out.

In 2015, I was invited by the Cabinet Secretary for Fair Work, Skills and Training to join the Scottish Government’s Fair Work Convention as a member of the Convention and also as its Academic Adviser. As Professor of Work and Employment Relations at Strathclyde Business School, Director of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research, and someone with a long-standing interest in job quality and workplace governance, I was delighted to accept.

Since then, and working with my fellow convention members from industry and from the labour movement, I’ve met and talked to a wide cross-section of workers, employers and their representative bodies, trade unions, public agencies, campaigning groups and civil society organisations to flesh out what fair work might mean in and for Scotland. One thing everyone agreed on is that fair work is something worth striving for.

Our initial task was to come up with a Framework for the future of fair work in Scotland. We wanted this to be aspirational, but also to be evidence-based, practical and accessible to anyone with an interest in the world of work. We also wanted the Framework to be inspirational - for employers, workers, unions, government and wider Scottish society. Our Framework has one overarching recommendation - that organisations deliver fair work that provides effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect; that balances the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers and that can generate benefits for individuals, organisations and society.

The Framework has five dimensions covering the scope of workers to ‘have a say’ and to influence and change practices; how people can access and progress in work; the employment conditions they experience; the work that people do and how people are treated at work. So what are these dimensions?

Effective voice: Effective voice means having channels (formal or  informal) through which to speak, be listened to and make a difference. It means seeking out and welcoming views in an environment where dialogue and challenge are dealt with constructively. An effective voice means being able to resolve problems and conflicts (which is important) but also to engage and participate constructively in decision-making.

Opportunity: Opportunity allows people to access and progress in work and employment on fair terms. Legislation sets a minimum standard for opportunity. Fair work goes beyond minimum standards - it means ensuring not just formally equal processes but thinking about how best to ensure equality in outcomes. Improving opportunity could involve paying greater attention to workforce profiles, buddying and mentoring, engaging with diverse communities, and engaging constructively with life stage issues.

Security: Decent pay and secure employment were the issues which came up most frequently in our consultation. Security involves greater contractual stability; addressing low pay (and paying the Living Wage Foundation's Living Wage) and agreement making that stabilises pay and conditions. Security also involves rejecting exploitative practices where the burden of uncertainty and risk fall disproportionately on workers. For some employers, this will be challenging, but there are many potential benefits for employers in recruitment, retention, employee engagement, performance and adaptability from providing greater security.

Fulfilment: Workers should be able to fulfil their roles using and developing their knowledge and talents, to have some autonomy, to engage in appropriately challenging work and to have their contribution recognised and valued. Fulfilled workers are likely to be committed, productive and healthy. Indicators of fulfilling work are associated with higher productivity and innovation in more successful comparator EU countries.

Respect: People in the workplace should be respected and treated respectfully, whatever their role and status. Mutual respect involves recognising the views, autonomy, status and contribution of others. Respect is not simply an interpersonal issue; it is also influenced by workplace structures and priorities - so a lack of respectful treatment can arise from excessive work demands and pressures. A culture of respect contributes to individual and organisational well-being.

Each dimension of the Framework is important - but the impact of thinking of the components of fair work holistically is where we identify the greatest potential. So how might people use the Framework? Fair work has to be owned in the workplace, by employers and workers. One simple application of the Framework is to assess your own current work practice or work experience against the dimensions. How well does it compare? How might any concerns be addressed? We have not offered a ‘checklist' of fair work, but rather an aspirational standard that can be addressed in different ways in different contexts.

We all have a role to play in Fair Work - not just as workers and employers, but as consumers and as citizens. Government at every level has a role to  play in deterring poor practice and encouraging good practice. Part of this must involve effective regulation and remedy where rights are breached.

Customers and consumers have the power to play an important part in stimulating fair work by choosing to buy goods and services from organisations with fair employment practices. Public contracting can be creative in delivering good use of scarce public resources without sacrificing fair work in the process. Our public bodies can therefore illustrate a commitment to practice and act as ambassadors of fair work, but we believe any organisation can become an ambassador for fair work. We hope our Framework can unite and support a ‘coalition of the willing’ to lead change that delivers fair work.

As a Convention, we have more work to do to promote what is Fair Work – to advise and support stakeholders; to collect and spread information on effective practice; to bring together employers, unions and workers to facilitate learning and change; to identify areas where change is needed and to develop measures to chart the progress of fair work practices at country level.

But the Fair Work Convention can't deliver fair work in Scotland. Neither can government. We have signalled our vision, our aspiration and our Framework. We have outlined what we think ‘good' looks like. And we will encourage, support and advise where we can. So it's over to you - what can you do to make sure our vision - that by 2025, people in Scotland will have world leading working lives that drive success, well-being and prosperity for all - becomes a reality?

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