Fairer workplaces for a fairer Scotland

By Marek Zemanik, Senior Public Policy Adviser. 

In just under 10 weeks, on 6th May 2021, people in Scotland will head to the polls to elect 129 new MSPs. It is fair to say, this election will be like no other election before it. We still face considerable uncertainty around the trajectory of the virus and the speed of the vaccine rollout and the associated uncertainty over the state of Scotland’s economy and public finances. Political parties will need to reflect this in their manifestos, while showing a longer-term vision for a post-pandemic Scotland. To support them in this task, CIPD Scotland last week released our 2021 Scottish election manifesto – Fairer workplaces for a fairer Scotland. 

And we do have a strong case for being listened to. After all, it was the people profession that was at the heart of the immediate COVID-19 response – navigating unprecedented changes to working patterns, coming to grips with ever-changing regulations and support schemes and supporting employees and their wellbeing through some of the most difficult times they have ever faced. As focus cautiously shifts to our recovery and discussions about a “new normal”, people professionals’ experience and expertise should be a valuable resource. 

Our manifesto is based on a programme of engagement with our members that started with the formation of the CIPD Scotland Policy Forum over a year ago. Over the autumn, we ran several surveys, held multiple policy roundtables as well as individual consultations. Our 21 recommendations are limited to areas of devolved competence and are laid out across four areas of public policy: the future of work, skills, wellbeing and inclusion. This blog offers a brief summary. 

The future of work 

Changes to how we work can happen very gradually – for example, as a result of technological change – or they can happen rapidly. What we have seen throughout most of last year falls firmly in the latter category. While uptake of flexible work has increased only marginally over the last few years, the forced lockdown meant an unprecedented shift to homeworking – the largest flexible work experiment ever seen. Some of these changes are likely to persist, although it would be premature to assume the “death of the office”. 

No matter what the trajectory of our recovery looks like, no matter what economic changes are coming down the line, job quality has to be at the centre of the debate. Much has improved over the last few years. We need to ensure that the next few years are not a step back. Our first series of recommendations are therefore around ensuring that fair work continues to be at the top of the next government’s agenda, improving employer and employee understanding of what fair work means and what benefits it can bring. Further support for innovative approaches to flexible work across businesses large and small should also be provided. 

An increasing amount of research is being done to explore the links between job quality and productivity, overlapping with existing work around skills or management quality. The last of these is of particular interest to the CIPD as we know that improving management capabilities can achieve better results – for managers, employees and the organisation as a whole. We make several recommendations around this, including the rollout of the People Skills service, specifically aiming to offer small businesses expert people management support. 

Skills for tomorrow 

While the pandemic changed the context within which policymakers and people professionals have to operate, it has not changed some of the fundamental trends that our economies, and our skills development systems in particular, need to prepare for. In our manifesto we talk about re-evaluating three kinds of balance – between the funding and support for academic and vocational education, between youth and adult skills development and between longer, structured courses and smaller bite-sized buildable qualifications. 

We make several recommendations in this area, including moving towards demand-led apprenticeship funding, additional routes to qualifications for adult learners and introducing an element of progression in the form of mastercraftsperson qualifications. We also call for boosting upskilling routes, primarily through an enhanced Individual Learning Account system as well as more support for reskilling by boosting the National Transition Training Fund and making it a permanent feature of skills policy in Scotland. 

Wellbeing after COVID-19 

Even before COVID-19 struck, some health and wellbeing indicators were of concern, with various CIPD surveys showing gradual declines. The pandemic has only exacerbated the pressures on wellbeing, with financial security, physical health and mental health deteriorating for employees. The importance of public policy and practitioner interventions around wellbeing has never been greater, with mental health in particular standing out. 

The Scottish Government does have a role to play in the relationship between health and work, and this includes linking employees and employers to relevant services across the devolved health service or providing appropriate support and advice. Our manifesto calls for additional support for initiatives like the Healthy Working Lives programme and Working Health Services Scotland, as well as for stable funding for workplace health and wellbeing training, in addition to more guidance and signposting for SMEs in particular. We also want the Scottish Government to convene a Scottish Thriving at Work Leadership Council, which would bring employers of all sizes, their representative organisations and mental health charities together to drive change across Scottish workplaces. 

Supporting inclusive workplaces 

The pandemic has had an impact on everybody, but we know that it did not have an impact on everybody equally. At its most direct, it has been shown that COVID-19 mortality rates are worse for those from ethnic minorities or older people. Surveys show mental health has deteriorated further for women than for men. People with disabilities report worsening physical health. And as the public health crisis evolved into an economic crisis, the unequal impacts of a recession began to materialise too. 

While there is much more for employers to do in this space, the Scottish Government can provide advice, support and guidance, it can lead by example as an employer and – crucially - it can use its devolved powers to act as an enabler. This means it should take specific steps that eliminate barriers to work, and – by extension - enable diverse and inclusive workplaces. We believe there are three areas (disability, age, caring responsibilities) where meaningful changes can be made in Scotland, not at the expense of others, but in order to unlock the same opportunities regardless of individual circumstances. 

We make recommendations around ensuring that the ongoing employability reforms as well as reviews of Careers Information Advice and Guidance (CIAG) work for older employees, and that the government should maintain its focus on closing the disability employment gap. In addition, we would like to see the government look at ways of closing the gap between statutory parental leave and funded childcare. Lastly, we argue for changing Carer’s Allowance rules to allow unpaid carers participate in skills development without losing their entitlement. 

Next steps 

The pandemic remains the biggest challenge most of us have faced. But with every challenge comes opportunity for change. Our manifesto lays out where we think that opportunity should be seized. 

We have already held discussions with the policy staff of three biggest political parties and are lining up discussions with individual MSP spokespeople as well as Scottish Government civil servants. Our hope is that some of these ideas end up in party manifestos and, eventually, in future Programmes of Government. That is how we can drive meaningful change – for our members and for all employees across Scotland.

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