Archive | Policy RSS feed for this section

Strategy for Rural Scotland

10 Jan

Unite Scotland has launched a rural strategy for Scotland. It discusses how rural housing, transport, industry and land reform could be improved for the benefit of people residing and working in rural Scotland. The document has been endorsed by the Rural and Agricultural Sector Committee.

Please get in touch if you have any views or would like to offer your ideas how we can make Scotland’s rural communities better places to live and work.

Rural Policy Nov11 Update


Unite releases phone bank results for Scottish Voluntary Sector

14 Dec

Unite Scotland has today (14 December) published results from an online phone bank showing that eighty-three per cent of workers in the sector face cuts. The phone bank spoke with 423 Unite members in ten voluntary sector organisations across the length and breadth of Scotland. This is largest representative survey done by a trade union in the sector.

Key findings:

  • 423 of the 468 members contacted completed the survey. Of those respondents eighty-three per cent said their workplace was being directly affected by cuts.
  • Nearly half of those who responded to the question: ‘are you affected by any of these issues’ stipulated that they were at risk of redundancy – a huge figure.
  • Worryingly seventy-four per cent stated that they had their terms and conditions changed and nearly a quarter stated that ‘bullying’ was an issue in the workplace.


As a result of the startling findings in our representative survey of voluntary and third sector workers Unite is calling for the following:

  1. A Scottish Parliament Inquiry into voluntary sector funding based on these results.
  2. A sector forum to be set up for areas of the voluntary and third sector in consultation with the relevant bodies which can help put in place and coordinate sectoral training, funding, investment, and, terms and conditions.
  3. For the Scottish Parliament to enforce that public procurement is used as a lever to ensure quality service provision and fairer conditions for the workforce.

Unite Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said:

“For many years we have been aware of the precarious situation of the voluntary and not-for-profit sector. However, even we were taken aback by the crisis in the sector.”

“The results portray an extremely worrying picture for the sector and that organisations and the workforce are on the brink of breaking point. A workforce who have had their terms and conditions eroded, a sector that is being dragged to the bottom, and, people fearing whether they will have a job this time next year.”

“The Scottish Government on the back of these results must intervene and all of us have a collective responsibility to ensure that we protect this vital sector which delivers a fantastic public service.”

Unite for our Society report


Notes to Editor:

  1. For a copy of the report please visit our website here or can be obtained by contacting Andrew Brady and Peter Welsh.
  2. The phonebank was conducted between June and September 2011.
  3. Unite members were selected randomly.

Fairer Employment Practices – Making Devolution Work

22 Sep

By Keith Ewing, Professor of Public Law, Kings College London & Mick O’Sullivan

One of the problems we are about to face under the Con-Dem government is the erosion of employment standards.   More use of agency workers, limited rights to unfair dismissal, and restricted access to tribunals.

In these circumstances we need to be looking around at areas where the Con-Dems are not in power politically, and where there might be opportunities to advance rights at work.   Specifically is there anything that can be done in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (and by large local authorities)?

The obvious problem of course is that under the devolution settlements, employment rights are tightly controlled by Westminster.   But while this means that there can be no ‘hard law’ mechanisms from the devolved administrations, this does not mean that we cannot develop alternative mechanisms that reflect a rejection of the race to the bottom being promoted by George Osborne and chums.

So what would be possible?   We think it would be open to the devolved administrations to take social justice and fair employment standards seriously, and to set a new agenda. There are three essential building blocks, all of which could be assembled very easily if there was the political will to do so.

First, it would be necessary to establish an office in one of the existing departments (whether Belfast, Cardiff or Edinburgh) dedicated to Fair Employment.   We could call it the Office of Fair Employment Standards (OFFEMPS), for want of something more imaginative.   No doubt somebody will be able to think of something smarter with a clever acronym.

Secondly, it would be necessary to develop a charter of Fair Employment Practices, expected to be applied by all employers in the jurisdiction concerned (Northern Ireland, Wales or Scotland).  The hard question of course is what these fair employment practices would be.   But don’t despair – there is an easy answer.

2011 is the 50th anniversary of the European Social Charter, an international treaty ratified by the UK (in 1962).  That treaty sets out a number of fair employment practices, that include

  • Everyone shall have the opportunity to earn his living in an occupation freely entered upon;
  • All workers have the right to just conditions of work;
  • All workers have the right to safe and healthy working conditions;
  • All workers have the right to a fair remuneration sufficient for a decent standard of living for themselves and their families;
  • All workers and employers have the right to freedom of association in national or international organisations for the protection of their economic and social interests;
  • All workers and employers have the right to bargain collectively.

There should be an expectation that all employers in Northern Ireland,Wales and Scotland will comply with these standards, which could be suitably embellished and developed, to fill gaps in  legal protection, as in the case of agency workers in particular.   A fair employer would be expected to convert an agency worker to full employment status after a year’s service.

So far as collective bargaining is concerned, this would provide an opportunity to address the declining levels of coverage, unparalleled in modern Europe.   There ought to be an expectation on all employers that they not only recognise trade unions, but that they take part in sector wide bargaining arrangements, in common with the best practice of the Nordic countries and the Netherlands, countries with economies we can only admire.

All of which brings us to the third of the building blocks, namely how to ensure that employers comply with these expectations.   There are precedents for this elsewhere, but essentially what needs to be done is the establishment of a contact person in the appropriate government to whom complaints could be made by a trade union about the activities of a particular employer.

It would then be the responsibility of the officer and his or her team to investigate the complaint and to seek its resolution, publishing outcomes on the government website.   A similar procedure is used by the OECD to enforce guidelines relating to the labour (and other) standards of multinational enterprises.  This has had good outcomes for British unions, including the global framework agreement with security giant G4S.

So although there may be no power to legislate on labour standards in the devolved bodies, this is no excuse for doing nothing.  There is a power to set and supervise fair standards, and to name and shame.  True, these standards are not enforceable in the courts or tribunals.   Paradoxically, however, a reliance on political pressure and bad publicity may provide a better way of raising standards than a reliance on law and lawyers.

Given at least four years of the Tories at Westminster stripping away at our employment rights, this is one of our best options.  It could be rolled out beyond Belfast, Cardiff and Edinburgh to London and to other receptive councils.


Making Devolution Work

14 Jun

Unite has developed an economic paper which aims to kick-start the push for prosperity in Scotland by calling for the establishment of sector forums.

The ‘Making Devolution Work’ document is designed to stimulate a discussion about the existing collective bargaining arrangements and the type of economy to be created for Scotland’s future. Unite believes that new ways must be found to promote economic and sustainable wage growth.

We believe the Scottish government has an opportunity to take the lead in the establishment of sector forums throughout the economy which would help to combat inequality and assist in improving workers’ purchasing power.

‘Making Devolution Work’ states:

  • Sector forums (along with other initiatives) are necessary to revitalise the Scottish economy, by helping to improve the spending power of Scottish workers, in the interest of everyone.
  • Sector forums could be piloted in the voluntary, road haulage, renewables industries and tourism sectors.
  • Sector forums would allow Scotland to address some of the structural problems of the economy, by bringing together those who know best, to deal with concerns about productivity, competitiveness, learning and skills, and adjustment to change.
  • The proposal reflects the best practice of almost all the other EU15 member states where collective arrangements are widely recognised as being in the public interest.

Pat Rafferty, Unite Scottish regional secretary, said:

“We believe sector forums being piloted in areas of the Scottish economy, including outside the public sector, with the support of a new Scottish government would help stimulate and rebalance our economy by strategically looking at issues such as wages, skill and productivity levels, investment and procurement.”

Professor Keith Ewing, Kings College London, commented:

“This is an important and imaginative proposal which would place Scotland in the front line on the road to recovery. By bringing together both sides of industry, Unite’s proposals will help to restore consumer confidence, and enable those who know best deal with the needs of their sector, following the example of the most resilient European economies.”

Richard Murphy, chartered accountant and director Tax Research UK, said in support:

“There is one way out of recession – and that’s by investing in growth. The Scottish government has to choose wisely where it will use its resources for best effect and payback. In that context what it can do is ensure Scotland’s workforce are well trained, well paid, and work in businesses that want to contribute to a strong Scotland that delivers prosperity for the nation as a whole.

“That prosperity must extend to the businesses that will benefit from having staff who can deliver high value to their employers that increase the profitable opportunities for investment in the country. It’s all these things that this policy seeks to promote, and that’s why it’s to be warmly welcomed.”

Peter Kelly, director of the Poverty Alliance, added:

“Mechanisms to deal with the issue of low pay in the private sector are badly needed. Whilst we are making progress on the introduction of a living wage in the public sector for too many Scottish workers in areas like hospitality and retail earning less than a living wage is a continuing reality.

“We welcome Unite’s proposals for sectoral forums as a positive step in the fight against low pay. Such forums could also help push forward a broader quality work agenda, rather than just being focused on the question of pay.”

What do you think of this idea? Read the paper and let us know.

Discussion paper – Making Devolution Work

Making Devolution Work Summary

Research: are ULRs State Agents or Social Partners?

19 Apr

The TUC’s learning and skills agency, unionlearn, has released new research on the role of Union Learning Reps (ULRs).

Union Learning Representatives: State Agents or Social Partners? by Bert Clough, was originally published in Labour and Industry, the journal of the Association of Industrial Relations Academics in Australia and New Zealand.

The paper compares the experience of union learning reps in England and New Zealand, reflects on the limitations of the current model and suggests some areas for development. If you’re interested in the bigger picture, it’s worth a read.

According to the paper, social partnership in vocational education and training is undeveloped in the UK, when compared to other North European countries. This is because of Britain’s fairly unregulated labour market, as well as Thatcher’s policy of removing union influence from skills and training policy. Tripartite bodies – such as industry training boards with skills levies – were largely abolished.

The Thatcher Government took a market driven, voluntarist approach to skills, and attempted to create a training market in which decisions to train would be up to individuals or employers.

Unsurprisingly, this policy failed, and the UK quickly developed skills gaps when compared to similar economies in Europe. These skills gaps have a serious economic impact, and lead the UK to under perform, particularly in manufacturing. This approach is still the norm, and one third of UK employers failed to provide any training at all in the past 12 months.

When Labour was elected in 1997, the new Government attempted to address this market failure by addressing the supply side of learning. Unions were recognised as stakeholders, and a number of initiatives were introduced to encourage employers to train. Specialist skills agencies were created, Sector Skills Councils were licensed, and the Union Learning Fund was created to support union-lead learning in the workplace.

Unions were recognised as being particularly good at engaging “hard to reach, non-traditional learners”.

This approach has been fairly successful, and 24,000 ULRs have been trained. There is evidence to show that they have had a positive impact on learning and skills in the workplace, and a large proportion of managers surveyed agree that union learning has had a positive impact on their company. The research also shows a positive correlation between having learning agreements and negotiating structures, and increased uptake of skills and learning.

However, there are limitations to this voluntarist model: the approach was “all carrot and no stick”, and the Tory’s light touch labour regulation was largely maintained, and few attempts were made to address the demand side of learning, for instance by reintroducing skills levies or compelling employers to train.

The paper argues that in many ways ULRs are “state agents”, because they carry out Government skills policy in the workplace. However, because they are union activists with statutory rights, they also carry out a representative role, and in many instances this supersedes their function as state agents. ULRs respond to members’ needs, and in some cases begin to bargain around skills and learning. This is the case in Unite. We are aware of Government skill’s policy, and we engage constructively with it, but when we design our learning programme it’s important for us to always put our members’ learning needs first.

Our learning programme been most successful in workplaces where we have robust collective bargaining around skills and learning. In addition to providing members with courses to support them, we also negotiate with employers to improve and widen their training offer, and invest in the long term development of their staff.

To create a world class economy in Scotland, industry will need to adopt high-involvement work practices (HIWP). This is a way of working that mobilises employees’ skills and creativity by giving them greater engagement and autonomy.

HIWP are proven to be successful at raising productivity and improving economic performance. The four key principles are giving employees Power, Information, Knowledge and Rewards. To successfully create this kind of economy, we will need to move to more collective bargaining over skills and training, investment in the company, job design and the organisation of work.

For union learning to reach its potential of revitalising both our union and the workplaces we are active in, we need statutory collective bargaining on learning and skills in union recognised workplaces – as is the case with pay and conditions.

Let us know what your views are.