Social enterprises can lead the fair work agenda

Posted: 17 December 2021, in News

The very foundations of our social enterprise community are based on the broad principles of fair work. Social enterprises are perfectly aligned with the drive towards both fair work and the wider aim of building a wellbeing economy.

The Scottish Government recently launched a new consultation Becoming a fair work nation and our response on behalf of our members aimed to place social enterprise at the heart of this agenda.

But what exactly do we mean by “fair work”? Fair work is about building progressive, inclusive workplaces where everyone is valued and can equally thrive. 

That could mean paying the real Living Wage, creating forums for employee voices to be heard, introducing a four day working week or ensuring genuine equal opportunities for ethnic minorities.

The national Fair Work Convention, says that by 2025: “People in Scotland will have a world-leading working life where fair work drives success, wellbeing and prosperity for individuals, businesses, organisations and society.”

Watch the “What is Fair Work?” short film.

Social enterprises have fairness, inclusiveness and equality at the core of their social purpose. Key figures in Scotland’s Social Enterprise Census 2019 demonstrate a sector that has clearly embedded many fair work practices (a new, updated study will be published in early 2022). Some key statistics include:

  • 75% of social enterprises pay at least the real living wage to all employees.
  • 65% of Scotland’s social enterprises are led by women.
  • 1:2.5 is the average pay differential between the lowest and highest paid employee.
  • 4/5 of social enterprises have a policy and budget for staff development.
  • 56% employ young people aged under 25 years.

Long-term inequalities continue to blight Scotland and are keenly felt in many workplaces. The aim of the fair work agenda is to seek to eradicate poverty and discrimination and open up opportunities, regardless of background.

While employment law is reserved at UK level there are many levers available in Scotland in order to drive fair work practices. 

For example, using procurement to ensure that fair work practices are a key requirement in public sector contracts, by supporting and promoting the voluntary real Living Wage and encouraging partnership working between employers and trade unions.

We can also look at reviewing and expanding on the various fair work practices and assess what additional support is needed for organisations. 

What should the priorities be? Should criteria be different for types of organisations? What funding and business support do social enterprises need to implement fair work? 

Fair work and social enterprise is a natural fit and social enterprise is one of the most logical environments in which to grow and develop the fair work agenda. 

Of course only by investing in the continued development of social enterprises, co-operatives and other ethical and values-led businesses, can this agenda be truly successful.

Social enterprises can and must lead the way towards fair work for all. With the right support they can implement fair work in more workplaces, showcasing practical successes and influencing both the private and public sectors.

We look forward to working alongside our partner organisations and with government to ensure that Scotland becomes a leading fair work nation.

To help on the fair work journey employees can complete the Self-Assessment Tool, to map experiences of Fair Work and find potential improvements. Employers can complete the Fair Work Employer Support Tool, to help understand and fully embed Fair Work.

Duncan Thorp, Social Enterprise Scotland