EK News Column – 26.07.17

Social Justice – one of these phrases that we hear often in political discourse, on radio and television, in the press. But what does it actually mean? All sorts of definitions abound, but for me it’s quite simple – social justice just means a fair shout for everyone.

 

Having said that, it’s not always easy to put that into practice – we all start life with different advantages and disadvantages. Some seem to manage perfectly well, others not so well for all sorts of reasons. Most people do the best that they can, but sometimes just need that helping hand.

 

One area though where it seems to me that fairness can be much more clearly defined is at work – equal pay, non-discrimination, workers’ rights that Trade Union activists and members have fought for over many decades. Unfortunately, many of these rights have been eroded over recent years. In addition, new working practices have become ‘the norm’, with workers being forced to work under unfair zero-hour contracts, or semi-self-employed, although dependent on a company for their work – what’s now referred to as the ‘gig economy’.

 

Although the Scottish Government would welcome the power for Scotland to make its own decisions on these matters, employment law is a matter ‘reserved’ to Westminster. So the Scottish Government is very limited to what it can do here – the Fair Work Convention has achieved some success in terms of uptake of the Living Wage and the fall in zero-hours contracts in Scotland compared to the rest of the UK. Constructive dialogue amongst employers, employees and Unions is being encouraged and there is increased emphasis on workplace equality issues across the public and private sectors. That’s all to the good, but doesn’t cover the major issues of inequality and bad working practice.

 

So, I am pleased that my Westminster colleagues are campaigning hard on behalf of the SNP and Scotland, on the very working issues that affect so many people. If we don’t have the power here in Scotland to make these changes then we have to take the fight to the heart of the UK Government.

 

Chris Stephens, MP for Glasgow South West, as well as putting Westminster Government Ministers on the spot about the planned closure of HMRC offices in East Kilbride, is presenting a Fair Rights at Work Bill to the House of Commons. This would put workplace protection in place for the so-called ‘gig economy’ workers. Chris wants to ensure that anyone doing paid work is treated as an employee with full rights to holiday pay and other benefits, including those on zero-hour contracts.

 

Stewart McDonald, MP for Glasgow South, has been campaigning hard against unpaid trial shifts and will present his draft legislation which seeks to end this practice. As Stewart has pointed out, the law in this area is grey and unpaid trial shifts are so exploitative, particularly to young people, students and migrants. In Glasgow Stewart has come across a company that was asking people to do a 40-hour trial for no pay or even a job guarantee at the end of it! Although none quite as bad as that, I have heard of instances of this happening in East Kilbride.

 

I hope that both of these worthwhile pieces of legislation will achieve cross-party support at Westminster. Surely there is no-one who can condone people working for nothing, or being so exploited.

 

The use of unpaid trial periods, or bogus self-employment contracts are on the rise – their exploitative use, just to avoid giving workers the protections they are due should be banned. Even the Prime Minister has stated that she wants to see the workplace fairer, so let’s hope the Tories put their money where their mouths are on this one!

 

If anyone wants to let me know of their own experiences I can pass these on to Chris and Stewart for their information.

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