Representatives of Unite and Better Than Zero call for further devolution to combat unsustainable employment
POWERS OVER EMPLOYMENT LAW should be devolved to the Scottish Parliament, according to representatives of Unite the Union and the Better Than Zero campaign speaking before the Scottish Affairs committee on sustainable employment in Scotland.
Bryan Simpson, national organiser of Better Than Zero, a youth-focused, STUC-launched campaign against insecure work in general and zero hours contracts in particular, presented evidence alongside Steven Dillon, regional coordinating officer for Unite the Union, to the committee chaired by SNP MP Pete Wishart.
“Without legislative pillars to change employment law and to improve employment law, we really are stuck.” Bryan Simpson, Better Than Zero organiser
Responding to a question from SNP MP Deidre Brock, who highlighted that many of the points raised before the committee concerned reserved matters and asked if relevant powers over employment law should be devolved to Holyrood, Simpson responded: “Without legislative pillars – and I’m not blaming everything on Westminster – but without legislative pillars to change employment law and to improve employment law, we really are stuck.
“What we’re having to do in Scotland, to be honest, is to circumvent those situations that exist. The Better Than Zero campaign, I would say, had to do direct action against employers that weren’t playing ball. And that was because of the lack of legislation that existed within Scotland.
“It [employment] needs to be devolved, because we do not have the rights or ability in Holyrood to change those things.” Bryan Simpson, Better Than Zero campaigner
“I would say it needs to be devolved, because we do not have the rights or ability in Holyrood to change those things. I think we would see a drastic change in, for example, self-employment definition if we had those rights.”
Dillon, while acknowledging that the Scottish Government would need to use any new devolved powers appropriately in order to effect real change, said: “If it makes workers’ rights better, fine, let’s go for it. Something needs to be done.”
Employment law and industrial relations are part of the specific, rather than general, reservations, which cover areas reserved to Westminster.
“In the industry itself – hospitality – 70 per cent earn less than the living wage. That’s by far the worst of any industry in Scotland.” Bryan Simpson, Better Than Zero campaigner
In response to a question from Wishart on what challenges to sustainable employment are specific to Scotland, Simpson highlighted the hospitality and retail industries.
Simpson said: “Certainly the hospitality industry, and speaking from a Better Than Zero perspective, also the retail industry are particularly bad for low wages and low skills. Obviously I don’t think they’re low skill jobs – it actually takes a lot of training to make a coffee nowadays as a barista. But unfortunately, the wages don’t reflect that at all.
“In the industry itself – hospitality – 70 per cent earn less than the living wage. That’s by far the worst of any industry in Scotland. It’s 55 per cent in retail, and then it jumps right up to 70 per cent in hospitality. In terms of precarious work, i.e. those who don’t have minimum hours, 25 per cent of all employers in the industry use zero hours contracts. That is three times higher than the national average.”
Simpson continued: “Only looking at the density of the hospitality sector in Scotland, it’s the second biggest to London. It’s 9.2 per cent of the population, 256,000 people work in the industry. Because 70 per cent of them are earning less than the living wage, what I would deduce from that is that it’s actually the second most precarious and the second lowest paid outwith London.
“In terms of the regional demographics of the hospitality industry – because of Edinburgh, because of the Highlands, because of places like Loch Lomond – we’re seeing [in] resorts up North, for example, huge amounts of unlawful deduction of wages. We know the hospitality sector is the lowest paid, and because it makes up such a large proportion of the Scottish workforce, I’d say it’s particularly bad.”
“In the Forth Crossing project, we discovered workers who were being paid less than the national living wage.” Steven Dillon, Unite regional coordinating officer
Referring to the construction industry, Dillon said: “The construction industry is rife with all different types of pay-scales, including employees paying their own employers national insurance, workers from across the world coming to work in Scotland, and indeed, in the Forth Crossing project, we discovered workers who were being paid less than the national living wage.
“Exploitation in the industry is rife, especially in Scotland, and I think it’s a shame that public contracts have got this in it. One of the issues I believe we should always look at is when people look at the public procurement process and say they’re doing this and they’re doing that – nobody actually polices it. So who polices it when it’s done is one of the crucial things that’s missing from construction in Scotland.
“A worker in construction may well get above the national minimum wage when they get his or her payslip, but when all the deductions take place, it shows you clearly it’s below the national minimum wage. That’s the issue.”
Picture courtesy of Jeff Milner
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