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Calling 'Mayday, Mayday, Mayday' for Workers' Rights

22/04/2016 10:55

The first of May every year is universally known as May Day and May Day is most commonly identified as International Workers' Day. In Scotland, this is celebrated by marches and rallies in its major cities with a festival of events put on in Glasgow as well. Amongst the heroes of organised labour that are celebrated are the likes of Jimmy Reid, the leader of the successful mass struggle of shipyard workers' on Clydeside to save their jobs by carrying out a novel 'work-in' form of industrial action between 1971 and 1972 which forced a hostile Tory government to nationalise the yards.

Today, the Scottish National Party (SNP) is seen by many as taking on some of the mantle of 'old' Labour and maybe even a touch of 'red' Clydeside. The SNP is heading towards making another rout of Labour in the 5 May Scottish Parliament elections, based in large part upon the common perception of radicalism in defending Scotland against the Westminster Conservative government. Indeed, SNP leader, Nicola Sturgeon, openly calls herself a 'social democrat' and the SNP brands itself as a social democratic party even though there is little of substance to back up the self-appellation. Nonetheless, it is a change from the former characterisation of being known as the 'Tartan Tories'.

The juxtaposition of these older and newer traditions makes the response to the phenomenon of the SNP Scottish Government's attempt to create a form of social partnership between capital, labour and the state a little puzzling as this article will explain.

The Fair Work Convention, established by the SNP Scottish Government in 2015, published its major document, the Fair Work Framework, on 21 March. The Framework states its vision 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' with the fair work being defined as that which 'offers 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'.

Surely, this major announcement - put out just before the dissolution of the Scottish Parliament for the 5 May elections - warranted coverage and comment in the media, especially as it indicates that in matters of industrial relations Scotland is moving in quite a different direction from the rest of Britain, mostly obviously with the Conservative Westminster government's Trade Union Bill about to become law. But, alas, the answer was a resounding 'no'.

It, therefore, falls upon academics to analyse such developments. So in a new 'Quick Note' for the Jimmy Reid Foundation, a critique of the 'Fair Work Framework' is provided. It shows that while the Framework has many laudable aims, it is completely woeful in providing the mechanisms by which to achieve these aims.

This is because the Scottish Government refuses to contemplate using its existing and future legal powers to compel employers to achieve the aims in their workplaces. In other words, the Framework is an entirely voluntary affair like other initiatives of the same SNP Scottish Government (like the Scottish Business Pledge). It is up to employers themselves to decide whether or not to endorse and implement the Framework. Unions can, of course, argue that employers should but they will receive precious little help in doing so from the Scottish Government.

The critique for the Jimmy Reid Foundation suggests that not only could the SNP Scottish Government's considerable power through procurement and grants to businesses be used but that the Scottish Government also abdicates responsibility for its own Framework by ruling out having an accreditation system (like the independent living wage system has) for employers seeking to implement the Framework's aims or periodic reviews of progress made towards attaining those aims.

Given that the Scottish Government is intent upon pursuing a voluntarist approach to achieving 'fair work', it should at least commit to periodic assessments of its plan. And because the Scottish Government is the employer, giver of grants or awarder of contracts through procurement, it should specify a contract of rights for workers to attain the aims of the Framework. Ultimately, the Scottish Government must undertakes steps to put on a statutory footing the institutional mechanisms for achieving the aims of its Framework.

The critique can be found at:
http://reidfoundation.org/2016/04/failure-of-the-fair-work-framework/

An earlier Jimmy Reid Foundation report setting out a vision for economic and industrial democracy can be found at:
http://reidfoundation.org/2016/02/democracy-at-work-launch-of-jrf-report-on-economic-and-industrial-democracy/

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