Fair Work Action Plan

Policy Piece

Scotland is leading the way in creating an economy in which wellbeing is as fundamental as GDP when measuring success. The strategic ambitions for Fair Work are set out in the Fair Work Convention’s Framework (2016). In response to this, the Scottish Government set out the actions it will take forward to achieve this agenda in the Fair Work Action Plan (2019). The actions the Scottish Government is taking through the Fair Work Action Plan cover three broad themes aiming to:

  • support employers to adopt Fair Work practices
  • deliver Fair Work to a diverse and inclusive workforce
  • embed Fair Work across the Scottish Government.

Fair Work sits at the heart of our ambition to move toward a wellbeing economy and is central to supporting economic recovery.

Fair Work is work that offers effective voice, opportunity, security, fulfilment and respect. The five dimensions of Fair Work will manifest in different ways in different workplaces and will balance the rights and responsibilities of employers and workers.  They should be visible in the attitudes, behaviours, policies and practices within an organisation – demonstrating the value placed on fair and equal opportunity in work.

The refreshed statement of Fair Work practices published on the 19th July reiterates the shared expectation for Fair Work to be at the heart of Scotland’s economic recovery. The statement encourages employers, workers and trade unions to continue working in partnership in the national interest to ensure the right decisions about workplace issues are reached. This includes encouraging employers to facilitate flexible working arrangements to support those with caring responsibilities – particularly women – to whom the balance of caring still too often falls.


Fair Work is an agenda for all, and goes beyond statutory employment rights and protections. The principles of Fair Work hold true for all workers: direct employees as well as others who are paid to work for and on behalf of an organisation, such as contractors, consultants and sessional workers, and including those on permanent and temporary contracts.  Fair Work also applies to all groups of society and aims to ensure those with protected characteristics can access and progress in work and enjoy the benefits from working, as others do.

Creating more diverse and inclusive workplaces is a key theme in the Fair Work Action Plan. Improving workplace equality is ever more pressing as we know that particular groups are disproportionately affected by the impacts of the pandemic. Occupational exposure to COVID-19 and varying prevalence of pre-existing medical conditions among ethnic groups have all been suggested as factors contributing to deaths involving COVID-19 of minority ethnic people.

A recent report by the Fawcett Society found that –

“Work-related anxiety for those working outside the home was highest among BAME

people, with 65.1% BAME women and 73.8% of BAME men reporting anxiety as a

result of having to go out to work during the coronavirus pandemic.”

We must ensure the pandemic does not deepen existing workplace inequalities. Our work to improve employment outcomes for minority ethnic people continues so that we can address these challenges. Our Race Equality Framework published in 2016 sets out our long term goals and in relation to employment, our vision is that minority ethnic people have equal, fair and proportionate access to employment and representation at all levels, grades and occupation types in Scotland’s workforce and experience fewer labour market, workplace and income inequalities. Through the implementation of Fair Work, we will encourage employers to take a more proactive approach to race equality in the workplace.

We also know that women have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic, and the Scottish Government continues to give consideration of the gendered impact and implications of COVID-19.

As part of our approach, we published an analytical paper looking at labour market impacts of COVID-19 for different groups of people, including women. https://www.gov.scot/publications/additional-poverty-statistics-2020/

This paper identified a number of adverse labour market impacts that women are likely to experience due to the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the following:

  • Women in general earn less than men
  • Women are less likely to be eligible for sick pay and are over-represented in many of the sectors where median hourly pay will fall below the current rate of the real living wage if employers do not bridge the 20% shortfall for furloughed staff.
  • There are more women than men working in some ‘shut down’ sectors, such as retail, accommodation, and food & beverage services.
  • Women’s disproportionate shouldering of unpaid caring responsibilities can make it harder to maintain or take on employment.
  • Women are overrepresented in health and social care jobs, which may put them at increased risk of contracting the virus – this is especially true for women of African and Caribbean or Black ethnicities.
  • Women also make up the vast majority of lone parents. Lone parents are less likely to have someone to share childcare with and some may be unable to work as a result.

We are also continuing to produce routine statistics which will allow us to monitor any changes to women and other population groups’ position in the labour market, including minority ethnic and disabled people, amongst others.


In March 2019, the Scottish Government published A Fairer Scotland for Women: Gender Pay Gap Action Plan. The aim of the Action Plan is to deliver a cross-government approach, tackling the causes of the inequality women face in the labour market. The plan also takes an intersectional approach recognising that some women experience multiple barriers in the workplace based on for example, their ethnicity, age, socio-economic group.  Within the action plan, we have over 60 actions to support Scotland to reduce the gender pay gap by 2021.  given the adverse impact COVID 19 has had on women’s employment opportunities, taking forward these actions will be more important than ever.


Our flagship Fair Work First policy is a key element of the Fair Work Action Plan and our broader purpose to increase well-being and create sustainable and inclusive growth. It aims to reward and encourage employers adopting fair work practice by attaching Fair Work criteria to grants, other funding streams and contracts awarded by and across the public sector  As such, we are asking employers to commit to:

  • Investment in skills and training;
  • No inappropriate use of zero hour contracts;
  • Action to tackle the gender pay gap
  • Genuine workforce engagement, such as trade union recognition; and,
  • Payment of the real Living Wage.

The Fair Work First criteria focuses on addressing particular labour market challenges which, if improved, can make a real different to workers, organisations and the wider economy.

Work First was welcomed by the STUC and businesses, and the criteria reflect a number of priority areas highlighted in the Advisory Group on Economic Recovery’s report published 22 June.  The Advisory Group’s report recognises that Fair Work First is encouraging good practice.


We have made good progress in delivering a number of commitments in the Fair Work Action Plan, including:

  • made good headway in implementing Fair Work First in line with the implementation plan;
  • increased the number of workers receiving the real Living Wage;
  • prioritised action to tackle the gender pay gap;
  • established a new Race Employment Team to deliver the employment actions in the Race Equality Action Plan;
  • delivered the Workplace Equality Fund to promote innovative solutions to overcome workforce inequality;
  • promoted flexible workplaces through targeted provision to support those who struggle most to access and sustain employment;
  • strengthened the our strategic partnership with the STUC, and are progressing joint work aiming to increase collective bargaining coverage across Scotland; and,
  • worked effectively with the enterprise and skills agencies, to embed Fair Work in their business support offer, and to support the development of an online tool to help employers adopt fair work practices.