The nature, experience, security and rewards from work have changed significantly in recent decades. Increasingly, large numbers of people experience work which is insecure and which is paid at levels which do not allow families to live above the poverty line. In Scotland, around half of working age adults experiencing poverty live in working households.
Discussions around minimum or living wages dominate the debate about the quality of work for those employed in low-pay sectors. Whist clearly important, this only partially addresses the question of what is needed for ‘decent work’. This wider concept was pioneered by the International Labour Organisation and the promotion of ‘decent work for all’ is one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 countries at the United Nations in 2015.
This research adapts and applies – using participatory research methods – the concept of ‘decent work’ in Scotland for the first time. Devised by Oxfam Scotland and the University of the West of Scotland (as part of the UWS-Oxfam Partnership), and in collaboration with the University of Warwick, the research consulted 1,500 people between October 2015 and February 2016 about what ‘decent work’ means to them. It focused on people with experience in low wage sectors or with low earnings – such as social care, hospitality, and cleaning – and specifically included demographic groups facing additional disadvantages in the workplace.
The consistency of the findings indicates a significant degree of consensus as to what matters to low paid workers in relation to ‘decent work’. While 26 factors were identified as important for decent work, the top five – in order of importance to those consulted in the focus groups – were: sufficient pay to cover basic needs; job security; paid holidays and sick leave; a safe working environment; and a supportive line manager.
None of the factors which participants prioritise are unreasonable or extravagant. Nonetheless, the research suggests these expectations are too often not being met. The study’s detailed findings should be considered by policy makers, employers and all stakeholders with an interest in improving working practices in Scotland in order to help move beyond a simplistic focus on employment rates. A full report will be published later in 2016.
Chosen excerpts by Job Market Monitor. Read the whole story at What makes for decent work?: a study with low paid workers in Scotland: initial findings