Tuesday, 13 October 2015

Is youth unemployment at a 10 year low?

On Sunday's Marr Show (at 37.00 mins), Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister stated that "youth unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade". If true, this is surely good news. People worry about youth unemployment for very good reasons. Like all varieties of unemployment, it is a terrible waste of resources for the country as a whole and expensive to the public purse. Periods of unemployment, particularly if prolonged, do significant damage to a young person's future life chances. There is a duty therefore on politicians of all stripes to ensure interventions on the subject are evidence-based and precise.

So is the First Minister correct? Well, she referred to the 'level' not the rate of youth unemployment so let's start with the latest (published 16 September) numbers drawn from the Annual Population Survey:

Chart 1: Youth unemployment, level (000s), Scotland 2004-March 2015

On the 18-24 years measure [note: I've chosen to focus on the 18-24 years group but have included information on the 16-17 sand 16-24 groups for completeness. All the arguments presented below hold true for both 18-24 and 16-24 groups. The 16-17 group is a special case as we shall see] it is clear that unemployment remains significantly higher than it was a decade ago: the latest figures, covering the April 2014-March 2015 period, confirm that 51,000 young people were unemployed compared with 36,000 during the period April 2004-March 2005. The last time the figure was lower than 51,000 was in the July 2008-June 2009 period when 18-24 years unemployment was 46,000. 

However, focusing on the level (i.e. the number of young people unemployed) isn't very illuminating. If for the sake of argument the economically active population aged 18-24 had doubled over the decade then a figure of 51,000 would represent a very decent outcome (i.e. a much lower rate) . So it makes sense to look at the rate:

Chart 2: Youth unemployment, rate (%), Scotland 2004-March 2015

The current 18-24 years rate of 14.5% is 4.1% higher than it was a decade ago; it was last lower in 2008. 

The above measures are based on the Annual Population Survey which are the most reliable statistics available for employment/unemployment/inactivity by age in Scotland. The APS is based on a sample size four times larger than the Labour Force Survey from which the headline figures we hear discussed each month are drawn. However, ONS also publishes an 'experimental' series of data on employment and unemployment by age. This series has the advantage of being more up-to-date (the latest figures cover the May-July 2015 period) but ONS are careful to apply the following strong caveat: "These estimates are derived from the same data source as the headline figures, but due to the relatively small samples sizes and subsequent sampling variability, the figures should be used with caution and are designated as experimental statistics".

The STUC has in the past taken issue with the Scottish Government using these statistics whilst failing to note the caveat. But do the experimental statistics support the proposition that youth unemployment is at its lowest level in a decade?

Chart 3: Youth unemployment, level (000s), Scotland, 2004-2015 (experimental series)

Even on this measure, 18-24 years unemployment is currently higher than it was a decade ago (54,000 compared to 47,000). However, this is a more volatile series and the number of 18-24 year olds unemployed increased by 9,000 between March-May 2015 and May-July. So if the First Minister had been speaking to Marr before the latest statistics were published on 16 September, her statement would have been technically correct on this measure. Perhaps the error is simply attributable to a short lag in updating official advice/Ministerial lines.

What does the unemployment rate from the experimental series reveal?

Chart 4: Youth unemployment, rate (%), Scotland, 2004-2015 (experimental series)

The current 18-24 rate of 14% compares to a rate of 12.9% exactly a decade ago. However, as with the level above, the rate did drop to 11.8% earlier this year. So, again, it would have been technically accurate to argue before the latest statistics were published in September that youth unemployment on this measure was lower than a decade ago.

It would have been possible but to have done so would have been more than a bit mischievous. As the charts above show, both the level and the rate fell during the period between 2004 and 2007 hitting lows of 32,000 and 8.8% respectively in Nov-Jan 2007. Surely a more accurate gauge of progress is to compare current performance against pre-recession peaks/troughs not an entirely arbitrary time period of a decade?

But does any of this really matter? Is the unemployment rate really an effective gauge of the position of young people in the labour market? I would argue it isn't and would refer people to this excellent 'heretical' post by Mike Campbell for an explanation as to why. As he points out, the unemployment rate measures the proportion of economically active (in work or looking for work) young people who are out of a job. The denominator is not the whole population aged 18-24. Economic activity amongst this age group is always relatively low because so many are in full-time education. Many young people looking for a job will also be in full-time education. If the number of unemployed young people remains constant, and the numbers going into full-time education increase, this would show as an increase in the unemployment rate.

So what more do we know about young people in the labour market in Scotland in 2015? 

Chart 5: Employment, Unemployment and Inactivity, rates (%), Scotland 2004-2015

The gradual fall in unemployment since 2012 is mainly attributable to rising inactivity; the increase in employment has been extremely slow although the very latest statistics - not yet sufficient to show a clear trend - are more encouraging. If the rising numbers of inactive young people simply reflect more entering full-time education then this it is clearly not a trend to fret about unduly. If however more young people are simply leaving the labour market altogether and not engaging in education or training then the Scottish Government - and the rest of us - should be extremely concerned. 

Chart 6: Inactivity rate (%), Scotland, 2004-2015

The huge leap in the 16-17 year olds inactivity rate almost certainly reflects the higher numbers staying on at school. We know that the number of 16-19 years olds not in education, employment or training has fallen significantly over the last decade. Of more concern is the 18-24 years group. Rising inactivity might simply reflect higher numbers in full-time education (and not looking for a job) but I'm unaware of official statistics we can draw on here.

But the slow increase in employment is a concern. It is unambiguously the case that fewer young people are in work than a decade ago whilst the employment rate for the over 50s has increased significantly. There is a worry that young people are being squeezed out of entry level jobs. We also know that young people are much more likely to be on a zero hour contract or paid less than the national minimum wage or the living wage. The under-25s will not benefit from the introduction of the 'National Living Wage'.

In conclusion, the First Minister was incorrect to state that youth unemployment is lower than a decade ago although it is certainly possible that, when the new statistics are published tomorrow, this may become true. My concern is that by focusing only on unemployment, and being guilty of using what at best are incomplete and out of date statistics, the First Minister is in danger of leaving the impression that young people's situation in the Scottish labour market is improving much more rapidly than is the case. One day politicians may start using labour market statistics with due care and precision. We're not there yet.

Stephen Boyd

Monday, 7 September 2015

The fight for 5050 and fair politics for everyone

As the arguments over women’s representation in public and political life are rehearsed again during the parliamentary scrutiny of the Scotland Bill, it may be appropriate to reflect on the wider political context. When looking back to the early days of the campaign for the Scottish Assembly, subsequently Scottish Parliament, we should remember how women’s voices played a key role in shaping that new institution in 1999.

The Scottish Constitutional Convention of the 1980s had a Women’s Issues sub group, convened by Maria Fyfe MP, with trade union and civic organisation representation. Yvonne Strachan Transport and General Workers Union, and STUC Women’s Committee, brought a strong voice for trade union women and wider working class involvement. Submissions to the Women’s Issues Group contained a range of ideas for changing the face of Scottish political representation, and the Reports from the Scottish Constitutional Convention in 1989, in 1990, and in 1995, all made clear that the working structures and patterns of a Scottish Parliament should positively encourage the involvement of women, ethnic and other minority groups.

The STUC Women’s Committee triggered a wide discussion with its very straightforward proposal that 50% of the elected representatives should be men and 50% should be women. This was tied to the idea that the new parliament would have two representatives for each constituency, a proposal which had emanated from the Kilbrandon Commission. The STUC Women’s Committee took this, and specified one male and one female, drawn from two lists in each constituency.

As the campaign around 50/50 grew, the trade unions also took their proposal to the political parties, and in 1990 the Scottish Labour Party adopted support for the 50/50 approach. The arguments at that time included the preferred format of the Parliament and the voting system to be used, whether First past the Post or some form of proportional representation. This had been resolved by 1997, when the UK General Election returned a Labour Government, and the Scotland Act was subsequently passed, to set up the Scottish Parliament. As we know, the suggestion on two member constituencies was not adopted, although the combination of first past the post and the list system does give every citizen in Scotland more than one representative, and some of the political parties continue to try to devise ways of using the electoral system to increase women’s representation.

The STUC Women’s Committee, and all those campaigning for women’s voices to be heard, shaped those early days of the Scottish Parliament, and the legacy is still here today.

However, looking outwards at the wider political agenda, we should remember we do not campaign in a political vacuum. The Conservative Government today seeks to significantly limit the role of trade unions both in the workplace and in wider civic society. The Trade Union Bill currently being rushed through the Westminster Parliament, will restrict the most basic rights to organise collectively, and will inhibit much of the progress made through workplace representation, on equality, on health and safety, and on pay, terms and conditions.

This should be of concern to us all, and it is not simply an attack on trade unions. The restrictions proposed on the Political Funds of trade unions will mean it is increasingly difficult for trade unions and their members to campaign in the political arena, be that on wages and decent work, or on women’s representation such as the 50:50 campaign. The basis for this has already been laid in the Transparency of Lobbying Act, Non Party Campaigning, and Trade Union Administration 2014,

which requires additional registration procedures for third party organisations when campaigning in the run up to Elections.

The media may portray this as being concerned with trade union links with the Labour Party, but make no mistake, it is about far more than that. Without those legitimate union political funds, trade union women and men will lose their voice on social and economic policy – and the 50/50 campaign all those years ago, led so effectively by the trade unions, would not have been possible.

So, please add your voice now to the growing opposition to the Trade Union Bill at Westminster, as it will do nothing to strengthen women’s voices in the workplace or in wider society, in fact, quite the opposite.


Ann Henderson

Saturday, 18 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

Usdaw is the UK’s fourth largest trade union and has over 45,000 thousand members across Scotland. Usdaw members, like workers all across the country have been hit by the ongoing effects of the cost of living crisis. Last year, Usdaw surveyed our membership to gather evidence on how the crisis is affecting their daily lives.

The survey generated over 2,000 responses, providing heart-felt individual anecdotes from members struggling in the face of austerity. When asked to compare themselves to five years earlier, nearly 80% of members felt financially worse off. The financial strain that members are now experiencing can be seen clearly in their day to day lives with many struggling to pay bills and turning to payday loan lenders.

For example over 80% of members reported that they have struggled to pay gas and electricity bills over the last five years. One of our members in East Ayrshire reported that,

“It has become increasingly difficult to makes ends meet, although I am able to do this it seems every month to get increasingly harder.”

Over 20% of Usdaw members are regularly missing meals to save money to pay bills and nearly 75% of members reported cutting back on other essentials to cover transport costs. It is clear from the results that disposable income has all but disappeared with all money now going on necessities. A member from the Scottish Highlands reported,

“Me and my partner both now work full time and we still can’t afford holidays or any luxuries. We can’t even afford to heat our tiny flat.”

The survey also looked at the issues created through a lack of affordable housing, with 43% of respondents stating that they occasionally or regularly missed rent or mortgage payments. The problems faced in housing were summarised by the following two quotes received from Scottish members:

“Housing should be a priority as my house costs take 75% of my wage.”

“I am fortunate in the sense that I live with my mother so we help each other however if I lived alone I could not survive on my income only.”

A complete lack of affordable housing is pushing people into poverty and removing their independence. In an effort to fix this, over 80% of respondents supported Labour’s home building programme and over 93% of respondents agreed that there should be more control on rents.

Usdaw is now using the results of this survey in discussions with employers and politicians to promote the policies needed to resolve the crisis. Over the past five years, Usdaw has been delivering above average pay rises on behalf of our members. However with working people struggling to meet their housing needs, struggling to heat their homes and struggling to feed their families, the cost of living crisis will not be resolved by pay negotiations alone.

For this reason, Usdaw is fully committed to achieving a UK Labour Government at next month’s General Election.

Lawrence Wason
Divisional Officer, Usdaw


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

The governance of our universities… no hang on, don’t turn the page yet - what’s going on in higher education at the moment is an important bellwether of how employers and the Scottish Government regard Trade Unions.

At the moment how Universities are governed varies institution to institution. In some the Chair of the Governing body is elected and in others they’re appointed by Committees themselves made up in part of appointees. Governing bodies are important both because they make the decisions that affect UCU members’ work and lives but also because universities have a key role to play in society and the economy.

In 2012 an independent review carried out by a University Principal, Current Chair of Court, and STUC and student representatives recommended, amongst other proposals, that all Chairs be elected and that Trade Union and student nominees have places on the new more democratic Governing bodies. The Scottish Government have promised legislation and recently ran a consultation on these proposals.

So far so uncontroversial you would think – elections, democracy and Trade Union nominees on the Board of institutions that receive over one billion pounds of public money each year.

Apparently not so. Universities’ Scotland, the body that represents University Principals, described proposals to include Trade Union nominees onto Governing bodies as ‘undemocratic’ and worse also described the inclusion of Trade Union nominees as being contrary to the Nolan Principles of Public Life - selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness, honesty and leadership. That Principals believe trade unionists on University Courts wouldn’t be able to act in a way conducive to those standards betrays a mind-set that is stuck in the 1980s rather than one which recognises the positive role of Trade Unions.

Universities are and must be autonomous, independent bodies but in return for substantial public funding the least Government should demand is a robust and transparent governance framework. The truth is that the current system simply doesn’t work. This year alone we’ve seen some Principals awarded pay rises of up to 13 per cent and many of the awards are shrouded in secrecy. This year UCU submitted freedom of information requests for copies of Universities’ Remuneration Committee Minutes. Out of 16 requests sent three simply refused to send any Minutes at all and of those that did almost twenty per cent significantly redacted the Minutes. This is despite assurances made following previous criticism that higher education in Scotland was now setting the benchmark for transparency.

On one side of the debate you have the staff in our Universities represented by the Trade Unions on campuses and the students under the leadership of NUS Scotland. On the other, University Principals who believe that things are just fine (at least for them) as things stand at present. The question is who Ministers will listen to? What they decide is an important indicator for the SNP Government under the new leadership of Nicola Sturgeon and an early test for her new Education Secretary, Angela Constance. She can choose either to make our Universities more democratic, representative and transparent or on the other hand to listen to Principals who attack Trade Unions and our right to be involved in Universities’ governance.

University and College Union, Scotland

Maritime and Offshore Jobs Worth Fighting For

On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

The current assault on offshore workers’ jobs and terms and conditions highlights a failure to require oil companies to make contingency plans. But whilst these opportunistic attacks are taking place the Scottish Government will say they do not have any legislative powers to stop them. That does not mean the Scottish Government is powerless and we support the Scottish Energy Jobs Taskforce and will be using it to seek to protect jobs, safety and employment rights.

The Scottish Government’s campaign for decent jobs and fair work must start where it does have the power to protect jobs and improve pay and conditions. Scottish ferries are one example, yet the decent jobs on Clyde and Hebrides Ferry Services (CHFS) are under threat from this Government.

The CalMac unions’ secured a postponement in the re-tendering of the 26 route CHFS contract but the competition to run these services has now begun in earnest. The next contract, valued at up to £1 billion over eight years will be awarded in May 2016 but the Scottish Government has not yet at the time of writing this article provided assurances to the CalMac unions over employment and pension protections for our members. Failure to, at the very least honour existing protections would be an invitation to a private bidder to base a cheaper bid and projected profits on redundancies and cuts to pay and pensions of our members.

And we have been here before when the Scottish Government privatised Northern Isles ferries in May 2012 by awarding Serco the £350m (nearly 70% subsidised) 2012-18 contract. Within six months of the contract start, Serco announced staff cuts and an attack on pension rights, contravening earlier agreements with the unions. Whilst RMT’s strike action prevented Serco from cutting seafarers’ pensions, nearly 40 jobs have been lost and passenger fares, including for pensioners and school children have been hiked.

CalMac could still win the next CHFS contract but the SNP’s Ferries Plan to 2022 seeks to open Scottish ferries up to greater competition rather than remove lifeline ferries from EU maritime competition law requiring re-tendering. A wealth of trade union and academic opinion supports an exemption for Scottish ferries from this disruptive rule but the bottom line for workers and passengers on Scottish ferries is that this Government’s approach puts the rights of private sector shareholders’ access to a large stream of public revenue above the rights of ferry workers and passengers.

A reminder of where privatisation leads is provided on the two Seatruck vessels currently chartered to work on the Northern Isles and CHFS ferry routes. Polish and Estonian seafarers working on these vessels are paid as little as £3.66 per hour and Seatruck’s refusal to bring their pay into line with the collectively bargained rates for the industry demonstrates the dangers of private sector involvement in Scottish ferry services.

By the time we go to the polls next year, the Scottish Government may have privatised the entire Scottish ferry network. That would probably be seen by some in the Holyrood bubble as shrewd appeasement of powerful multi-national but most in the trade union movement would see it for what it is – a betrayal of Scottish communities and workers. Lets campaign together to make them see sense.

National Union of Rail, Maritime & Transport Workers


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

The Society of Radiographers (SoR) has long been committed to eradicating bullying and harassment in the workplace. The SoR defines bullying as “unwarranted, humiliating, offensive behaviour towards an individual or group of employees”.

In 2009 the SoR published the document “Bullying and Harassment: Achieving dignity at work for all our members.” In this document the CEO stated that bullying and harassment was a “sensitive” matter that “destroyed team working, undermined trust and ruined careers”.

In 2010 the SoR released further guidance entitled “Dealing with Bullying and Harassment: Advice for SoR Reps”. This laid out a step by step approach for reps to support victims of bullying in the workplace.

The guidance states the importance of knowing the employers bullying and harassment policy to see what action is appropriate. Members who are being bullied are encouraged to keep a diary of any incidents in order to evidence what is happening to them. It is encouraged that an informal resolution be achieved if possible, as often the person accused of bullying will be unaware of their misconduct. If this has not been possible formal procedures should be initiated and the policy followed.

At the 2012 Annual Delegates Conference (ADC) the Eastern Region noted that bullying and harassment still appeared to be an issue. According to the SCoR Graduate Student Survey 2011 students cited dissatisfaction with clinical placements including bullying and harassment as the main reason for not completing the course. The SoR were called upon to promote the document further and conduct further research into the subject. This resulted in the SoR starting the “Stamp Out Bullying” campaign.

In 2013 the SoR sent a survey to all members to ascertain the level of bullying they were facing. A link was sent to the 18, 701 members registered at the time, 1463 responded. The day the survey was sent out 800 members responded making it the quickest completed online survey in SoR history. The survey highlighted that 21% of respondents believed there was a serious problem with bullying in their department. An alarming 31.3% of respondents said they had been bullied by their line manager.

During 2013 the SoR trained their accredited reps throughout the regions. The training was a two day course. The first day focussed on behaviour and “it’s not what I say, it’s how I say it”. The second day focussed on legislation and how to support a member who was being bullied.

In April 2014 the SoR held a bullying and harassment conference. H&S reps attended with their managers in the hope that they would be able to work in partnership to understand the issues and work progressively to manage them.

In July 2014 the SoR emailed all radiography managers to ask them to sign up to a pledge to eradicate bullying in their department. Several departments throughout Scotland and the UK signed up to the pledge.

Ross G. Baxter-McGhee,
The Society of Radiographers

Friday, 17 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives

“Between 2009-10 and 2019-20, spending on public services, administration and grants by central government is projected to fall from 21.2 per cent to 12.6 per cent of GDP and from £5,650 to £3,880 per head in 2014-15 prices. Around 40 per cent of these cuts would have been delivered during this Parliament, with around 60 per cent to come during the next. The implied squeeze on local authority spending is similarly severe." [The Office for Budget Responsibility]

We should not underestimate the damage this will cause. We are living through massive cuts. In Scotland this translates to £6bn cuts from public spending by the end of the next parliament. It will mean the complete re-shaping of the public sector in Scotland and beyond.

We have seen 60,000 public sector job losses and we are only half way through. No sector has been left unscathed including the NHS, police, and colleges and universities. It is, however, local government who are the hardest hit with 4 out of 5 of the job losses.

None of the pain has been worth it. Osborne has failed to meet his deficit targets. Instead he has borrowed more than Labour ever did, entirely as a consequence of the failure of austerity economics. And not helped by the political choices made at Holyrood to freeze the Council Tax and subsidise business both of which have come at the expense of public services.

Pay freezes, low paid new jobs, low incomes of the involuntary self-employed are behind the apparently improving unemployment figures. This is the reason why tax revenues have not grown sufficiently, and public borrowing has increased despite savage public spending cuts.

The statistics speak for themselves. 8 in 10 of new jobs are low paid; 6 in 10 of children living in poverty have at least one parent working; 84,000 people in Scotland on zero hours contracts; 427,000 in Scotland people earning less than the living wage - just over 18% of the entire workforce, and an increase of around 32,000 on 2013; 69,000 people in Scotland earning the minimum wage or less – around three per-cent of the workforce.

UNISON’s response is our Public Works campaign. We are calling for a programme of public investment; in social care, public transport, housing, childcare and education - through labour market policies which ensure that the fall in workers share of national income in the past decade is reversed, and the recovery is wage - rather than debt - led.

Throughout the UK, wages have been stagnating in recent years, virtually static with inflation usually, and sometimes considerably higher. This has meant a significant drop in living standards for many, which effects demand on public services, for example, dropping wages mean one in eight Housing Benefit claimants in Scotland are now in work, but failing to earn enough to pay the rent.

In simple terms, if we work towards full employment, decent pay for women and men, equality, and sustainability, this will start to turn the economy around.

You only have to look at the top 10%, to see there is money. Executive pay averages about £440,000 per year - 16 times more than average pay. The big losers are at the bottom, the 'dog end voters in the outlying regions' as one Tory MP put it. Tory economic policies have been deliberately designed to shift money from the poorest to the richest. Not only do such policies cause social misery they make no economic sense

Public Works. It creates demand, builds infrastructure and protects us all. Although they do not like to admit it, the private sector rely directly on public sector contracts to keep afloat especially in hard times like these. Childcare and early years education supports women into work and helps children develop. The NHS keeps the workforce healthy and local government creates the environment where private business can flourish. Public services share risk and resources, they contribute to a balanced growing sustainable economy.

We need to remember that while the rich have the money the trade unions have the people. But this is only worth anything if we the people get out there to show there is a better way.

That’s why UNISON’s Public Works campaign for this General Election and beyond is recruiting 1000 influencers who will be taking these arguments into their workplaces, protecting public services and those who deliver them, one conversation at a time.

UNISON influencers will remind people to campaign and vote for public services. Not just for those working in them or just for those who use them. It is more than saving the NHS or ensuring safety nets. This is about how we fight austerity, build demand in the economy, bring equality and social justice and return to the sustainable economic growth – which will benefit us all.

Mike Kirby,
Scottish Secretary, 


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

As we move closer to the General Election, there will rightly be a lot more talk about manifesto commitments on issues like the NHS, taxation, social care, education and the shrinking role of the state.

However, just as important – but less likely to receive attention and airtime – are policies around the quality and future of work.

Although the economy has started to recover, all is not well in the world of work. GDP has only just returned to the 2008 pre-recession level. Productivity and real wages have both fallen, with employment growth mainly in low-paid service sectors.

The UK has one of the worst records among OECD countries for utilising skills at work effectively. The quality of working life continues to deteriorate, both in the public and private sectors, with rising levels of stress and mental ill-health.

People want to do work that is enjoyable, stretching and fulfilling, and they want their families and communities to have these opportunities, too. When Prospect consulted its own members, people identified four priorities for improvement: 
  • giving employees a voice 
  • fair pay and reward 
  • better management of change 
  • engagement and respect of employees. 
As a politically independent trade union, Prospect doesn’t try to tell our members which way to vote. But any political party aspiring to government should have a compelling narrative of what good work looks like, as well as a programme to deliver it.

And it must speak to the workforce as a whole. Low pay and zero-hours contracts are totemic issues, and parties’ policies on these issues provide a clear signal of political values and motivation.

But more is necessary. The world of work is complex and diverse, and it needs a coherent and comprehensive policy framework.

Politicians who think that they already have policies to underpin a good work culture should shout now, because our members certainly haven’t yet heard them. Frankly, all parties have more to do.

That’s why Prospect has drawn up its own manifesto of ideas. This spells out what good work is, and what politicians need to do.

For example, we want politicians to commit to reforming corporate governance to give greater emphasis to and accountability for the long-term implications of decision-making.

The Government as an employer should lead by example in relation to its own directly employed staff. Public procurement policies must be used to improve practices along the supply chain, including investment in high quality training and skills and a decent working environment.

We want politicians to work with Government departments, companies and other stakeholders to devise measures of good work; giving them equal weight to the financial metrics that currently predominate; and mandate corporate reporting on this basis.

We would also like to see a commitment to legislating for works councils, which help promote genuine collaboration and consultation on strategic decisions.

We invite all politicians to set out their vision of a good workplace and a good job, and to be prepared to debate that vision in public.

There are two compelling reasons why they should do so: First, Britain needs more good jobs in high-performing workplaces to rebalance our skewed economy. Second, driving positive change at work is without doubt a vote-winning agenda.

Read Prospect’s Good Work Manifesto:

Sue Ferns
Director of Communications and Research


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

In its dying days, the UK Coalition desperately spews out anti-union bile against the Trade Union representing the Government’s own workers. Ian Lavery MP, former President of the National Union of Mineworkers, describes the Tories' attack on the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS) as the most serious since the 1980s.

Personally co-ordinated by Cabinet Office Secretary, Francis Maude, the Tories aim to bankrupt our Union through withdrawal of check-off subscriptions deducted at source from members' wages. This is all part of the unremitting determination to take back gains won by the working class through generations of struggle, including the National Health Service and the welfare state. They want to remove Trade Union and human rights and to institutionalise inequality.

Maude and the Tories are attacking PCS for concrete reasons. Our union has dared to stand up against the erosion of our members pay, pensions and jobs. And for advocating an alternative to ruinous austerity economics, rich-club tax favours and disgraceful welfare misery for which history will mark this Government.

Attacks on jobs, conditions and services all stem from the same ideological source and class interest, and will only be defeated by the joint, co-ordinated industrial might of our Movement acting together. Only the Trade Union Movement challenges the political consensus that there is no alternative – only austerity-lite or austerity-max.

PCS may be the target today but this attack is part of a wider anti-democratic strategy to eliminate effective, campaigning trade unionism. The Tories want free reign to plunder and destroy the public sector.

The UK Government refuses to negotiate at national level while implementing a clear national cuts strategy. They won't negotiate national agreements but try to diminish or rip up those that already exist by driving through disadvantageous conditions wherever they can and remove bargaining rights on a piecemeal basis. Trade Union facility time has been slashed in an attempt to weaken the Union's ability to defend and represent members.

Although PCS is an efficiently organised and administered Union, it will take a tremendous effort to sign over all current members to direct debit. We learn from other Unions who faced withdrawal of check-off that it can take upwards of three years to recover subs-paying membership levels. It is clear that the Tories' intention is to seek to exploit potential lower Union density levels in the short-term as a pretext to denying Union recognition altogether. Alongside their threats to further tighten anti-union laws, this attack is part of a plan to effectively outlaw industrial action.

We expect better, however, from a Scottish Government prepared to commission the Working Together Report with the STUC and to set up a Fair Work Convention. That the Scottish Government hasn’t cut facility time for PCS reps nor removed check off is positive. However we remain vigilant against an austerity pay policy and any attempt by either Ministers or employers in this sector to undercut long held Trade Union agreements, partnerships or principles.

Lynn Henderson, 
PCS Scottish Secretary


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

There is a toxic mix of circumstances which have come together over the last ten years in the media industry to create a worrying growth in damaging stress levels among workers.

A continuing clamour for high levels of profits, trying to maintain serious returns on investment is a starting point. That is a problem in itself as advertising revenues are stretched among a growing broadcast and online presence and of course the expansion of alternative forms of media as many people move to finding their news from other sources.

It has proven impossible to protect profit levels of around 50 per cent return but every effort has been made by publishers to deliver for the shareholders. Of course where revenues fall the deficit is offset by savings, generally identified as redundancies with large and damaging reductions in staff, with newsrooms but to the bone in recent years. On top of that there is also the added dimension of new technology designed to wipe out tiers of the workforce with new production systems which are not the cutting edge promised by the companies flogging these new “efficient tools”.

So as staffing levels are reduced new clunky production systems are introduced and pressure grows on media employers to deliver alternative revenue sources via development of their own online sites, the pressure grows on journalists, photographers and allied workers across newsrooms.

The equation of less staff, problematic equipment, demands to deliver copy and images for online as well as their core news provision has all led to a serious growth in damaging stress across our industry.

The NUJ had no option but to tackle this epidemic in every way possible. We developed the use of the HSE Stress Indicator Tool, an impressively well designed mechanism which in survey form can provide a clear and colourful picture on the state of workers in every newsroom. The questions are not obviously related to stress but subtly come together to show how bad things are in relation to working conditions and poor management.

We sent the surveys to every major chapel (workplace branch) in Scotland and the results were quite frightening, confirming all our fears that stress and related illnesses were a growing problem and an issue that required tackling head on.

The results were sent to all the employers asking them to engage in immediate talks to come up with solutions. Some bosses were sympathetic and suggested a joint approach, others were almost dismissive of stress, suggesting “we are all stressed but it is not always a bad thing.” They obviously hadn’t seen the damage caused to some of their journalists and certainly hadn’t been aware of the worrying increase in members considering themselves suicidal.

We sought political support and the Scottish Affairs Committee summoned the main employers to Westminster and after a searching session issued written demands that they address the problem of stress among staff.

Since then the process described above, seen as managing decline by some people, has continued. The NUJ has developed a life-saving relationship with SALUS and NHS counselling service and raised the awareness of reps and members that they can contact the union for help as soon as they become aware of stress becoming a problem. However, prevention is our main approach and involvement in restructuring in various newsrooms has been a major plank in our strategy to protect our members.

Paul Holleran,
NUJ National Organiser

Thursday, 16 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

The Musicians’ Union’s Work Not Play campaign is challenging the commonly held view that it is okay to ask musicians to work for no fee. It is surprising that in 2015 we have to campaign for pay. Not just fair pay – but any pay at all.

It’s fair to say many engagers do not realise what they are asking for, whether they are booking a band for their wedding, village fete, festival, venue, or looking for a free music lesson or two. They are forgetting what it takes to be a professional musician: years of training, years of practising, of honing your craft, playing good gigs, dodgy gigs, buying all the instruments you play, instrument care, insurance, tax and other costs. Plus the event specific costs, like rehearsing, creating a set list, learning any requests, travel, expenses, and childcare. Multiplied by the number of musicians involved.

One of the most common excuses we hear for asking musicians to work for free is “it’s for charity”. And yet when we dig a bit deeper it often becomes apparent that other people working at the event – security, bar staff, waiters, caterers etc – are being paid. Musicians who are asked to perform at charity gigs should be offered their usual fee. It should then be up to the individual musician if they want to donate all or some of the fee back to the cause. Musicians should not feel under extraordinary pressure to, in effect, pay to work.

Another common excuse is that it’s “good exposure”. Sometimes it is – but only if it will truly help a musician’s career. Will it lead to more work? Will it significantly boost their fanbase? Is there someone in the audience guaranteed to be able to take the musician’s career to the next level; producers; record labels; real opinion leaders? The answer is usually ‘no’.

The Musicians’ Union started Work Not Play to give musicians a voice, and the tools to say ‘no’.

You can show your support:

Vote for the Work Not Play motion at Congress to call on the General Council to circulate information about Work Not Play, and encourage all affiliates to ensure that musicians hired for events are paid MU rates.

  • Tell us if you see an advert asking musicians to work for free using the hashtag #WorkNotPlayMU. 
  •  If you are the musician, call the organisers out on it. Say no. Don’t be afraid to ask for a fee – it works surprisingly often. And remember, you can get in touch with the MU for support. 
  • Send us your stories of being asked to work for nothing. Email us at worknotplay@themu.org
Musicians can make whole events viable, but walk away with nothing. We need to spread the word: this is not a hobby – it’s our profession.

Musicians’ Union

Wednesday, 15 April 2015


On the 20-22 April the STUC Congress will be meeting in Ayr. The theme of this year's Congress is Decent Work and Dignified Lives. In the run up to Congress this blog will host a series of articles prepared by STUC affiliated unions. These articles reflect the positions and priorities of our affiliates and are designed to give a flavour of the disparate work that the trade union movement is undertaking in pursuit of decent work and dignified lives.

As we approach the General Election and the political parties try to entice voters with promises of better times ahead, we should be looking at exactly what it means for working people. Promising an end to zero hour contracts, abolishing the bedroom tax or advertising that “we need a pay rise”, mean nothing if they are wrapped up in austerity measures and cuts to workers’ rights. So when it comes to putting your “X” in the box, you should first ask those seeking your support, what measures they support and what are they going to do about improving the lot of working people. In particular what are they going to do about giving young people an equal standing in society, instead of the merry-go-round of unemployment, workfare schemes, low pay and every other type of exploitation imaginable.

The BFAWU like all other unions are committed to pursuing a fair deal for young people both in the workplace and society in general. To this end, the BFAWU along with other sympathetic organisations and individuals, have launched the Fast Food campaign alongside the “Hungry for Justice” campaign. This multi- faceted approach linked to similar campaigns in many countries around the world sees us targeting the big fast food companies who use youth rates as a means to keep pay low.

We understand that a young person starting out as an apprentice electrician or a plumber is not going to be paid the same as a qualified tradesperson, but wages should rise incrementally as skills are learned. The problems with some of the household name fast food joints is that they take on young people on below £3 per hour, not because they are learning an apprenticeship with skills that will last them a lifetime, but because they are cheaper than Minimum Wage rates and easily replaced from the reservoir of exploited young people created by subsequent Governments.

Besides the obvious, what is the difference between a 16 year old and a 60 year old flipping burgers, making coffee or preparing sandwiches? The answer is the pay difference. But when it comes to employing staff to do these jobs the blatancy of these companies to the fore as they employ the young person, whether it is on an apprenticeship or a juvenile Minimum Wage rate, because they are cheap labour.

As a Movement we have to be forceful in our insistence that the politicians we elect irrespective of the colour of their rosette, have to commit to cutting youth unemployment, introducing meaningful protections that end exploitation, an end to the use of youth rates to drive down pay, an end to free labour schemes like workfare and the adoption of the Living Wage irrespective of age, capability or geographical location. 

We are a strong Movement when we unite and together we can put an end to young people spiralling into the abyss of poverty and give them hope of an equal standing in both the workplace and in society.

Ronnie Draper
General Secretary
Bakers, Food & Allied Workers’ Union