Prior to becoming an MSP, I was a divisional convener for Unison and it was my responsibility and indeed my pleasure to stand up against injustice and inequality in the workplace.
It is not an unreasonable aspiration to want work that is fair – and for such work to be available to everyone no matter background or circumstance.
Fair opportunities can break down labour market inequality; it improves people’s life chances; creates opportunities for social mobility; and helps create a more equitable, inclusive and cohesive society.
Since my election, I have vowed to continue to champion workers’ rights, however it is incredibly frustrating that the bulk of these powers are at the behest of a Tory Government.
The Tories are the party of employment tribunal fees; the party of the pernicious Trade Union Act, and the party of Brexit.
There are few areas on which Brexit has more potential to impact upon than that of workers’ rights.
Protections, such as the outlawing of discrimination for part-time and fixed-term workers; the right to rest breaks and paid holiday; and leave for working parents, all derive from EU directives.
In 2015 the Scottish Government established the Fair Work Convention to be a focal point to develop, promote and sustain a fair work framework for Scotland. The Fair Work Convention defines fair work through five different dimensions:
Effective voice; Opportunity; Security; Fulfilment; and Respect.
Each of these aspects are essential – not only for the employee but for society and the employer themselves – however too often the opportunity and respect of minority and underrepresented groups is disregarded.
For women – it remains an outrage that in the UK for every £1 a man earns, a woman takes home 81p.
For our ethnic minority population – it is scandalous that last year’s employment rate in Scotland was 74% for white people, but only 58% of BAME people.
And, also, for our younger population.
It is shameful that by next month, workers aged 25 and over will be entitled to £7.83 per hour, whilst for under 18’s it is £4.20, and for apprentices a pitiful £3.70.
If we are serious about treating people fairly at work, then we must ensure they are paid fairly for work too.
Over the last few months both at Parliament and in the media, we have heard of outrageous practices undertaken by unscrupulous employers.
Indeed, as we debated in January, my SNP colleague Stewart McDonald MP sought to introduce a Bill to the UK Parliament to outlaw unpaid trial shifts.
The UK Government had the opportunity to show fairness and allow the Bill to proceed but, sadly, in true Tory fashion, it was talked out.
If Stewart’s Bill were to have become law it would have ensured that firms like ‘Mooboo’ would no longer legally be permitted to ask trainees to work a full 40 hours for no pay, and no guarantee of a job at the end of their trial period.
Other exploitative practices evidenced recently, occurred over the period of extreme weather earlier this month.
Companies like William Hill forced my constituents to travel to work – despite red weather warnings being in place – or face losing pay.
It is absolutely disgraceful that employers can compel people to work at times where the weather is deemed to be a threat to life, solely to put profits before people.
I welcome the agreement between the Scottish Government and the STUC who have announced that they will develop a fair work charter focusing on the treatment of workers affected by such emergencies.
The charter will include a recognition that workers need an effective voice through a union to develop appropriate, flexible and fair approaches, and will highlight examples of employers and unions working flexibly and constructively.
Through the Government’s continual work with our trade union partners, and the actions this Government has taken, it is clear they are committed to ensuring people are valued, rewarded and safe at their work, with equal opportunity to progress and succeed.
Indeed, through the Fair Work Convention and Fair Work Framework, the promotion of the Scottish Living Wage Accreditation Initiative, and the creation of the Scottish Business Pledge – the Scottish Government are taking steps, where possible, to progress their fair work strategy.
However, it is only by having full powers over business taxes, employment law, the minimum wage, health and safety, and welfare, that we will be better placed to create good quality jobs, grow the economy, and lift people out of poverty.
If the Labour Party in Scotland truly believe that they are the party of the workers, then they should back SNP calls for employment law to be devolved to this Parliament in order to make Scotland’s fair work ambition a reality.
Date published: 28th March 2018