Decent, Fair, and Good to Middling: Why Job Quality is policy issue of the moment in Scotland and the UK

Look at the photo. A man is standing with a placard outside the Apple Store in Glasgow advertising cheap iPhone repairs. This is without doubt a job. A person is paid to stand there with a placard. Maybe it works because people do maybe think ““nah forget Apple, I will take my iPhone to this little shop and get it fixed cheaply”. Perhaps he is on a zero- hour’s contract or a temporary job brokered by an agency. Maybe he is paid on the number of people who follow him to the cheap repair shop. For many policymakers it works because someone is employed and has a job. That counts them out of the unemployment claimant count but as you can see he is not at all engaged. Thankfully we are beginning to address the issue of job quality. Whatever we say about our placard holding pied piper, his job is not a quality one. That has impacts for productivity, well-being and economic growth. If we are to build a high inclusive growth Scotland we need do think about job quality.

Politicians in Scotland have been alive to this for some time and the CIPD is a regular contributor to parliamentary enquiries here. The UK government has also been active recently with Theresa May trying to make better work the centerpiece of her post Brexit policy. To that end the UK Government recently published a review of the UK labour market conducted by Matthew Taylor which has identified such precarious work as a problem. The report identifies the desirability of fair work, fairly taxed work and work which allows agility and adaptation. Many have criticised the Taylor report as weak and ineffectual. The STUC General Secretary is on record as rubbishing it as is his UK counterpart. However the important point is that work quality now dominates the political debate. Nevertheless there are competing views of job quality which gets in the way of doing anything to address it. In this blog we will look at the main approaches in job quality. CIPD has commissioned research from the Institute of Employment Research (IER) at Warwick University, and these are some of the early findings from a review of the extensive literature on the subject.

Decent work

This is the key concept behind the UN’s labour market body the International Labour Organisation (ILO). The ILO definition "freedom equity, security and human dignity." The concept tends to be connected with poverty reduction in developing countries and is designed to mitigate globalisation and the seismic impact it is having on the labour market. The decent work approach has 11 dimensions ranging from time at work and work life balance to training and equality. Oxfam tried to use it recently to look at low wage work within Scotland.

Fair work

This is the approach favoured in Scotland and one already pursued in Australia. The Australian version is based on the "Fair Go" idea of a “moral economy” of work rooted in Australia’s history of in migration. Scotland's approach is based on a Scandinavian type “social partner dialogue” mixed with elements of high performance working. The approach focuses on Voice, opportunity, security, fulfillment, and respect as the drivers of Fair Work. Government aligns itself very much with this agenda as do other political parties with nuance of emphasis. However it may be that by focusing on unions as the social partner for the workforce it could overstate their role even in relatively unionised Scotland.

Good Work

This is the EU's pre- global financial crisis play on inclusive labour markets. It is linked to social cohesion but when monetarism and austerity took over it was side-lined in favour of flexibility and open labour markets the so called Lisbon approach. The EU has tried to re-launch ‘Good Work’ with a broader and more inclusive approach which still favours flexibility over regulation demanded by the unions and left wing governments. The Royal Society (RSA) took up baton in U.K. and to adapt Good Work by developing a more sophisticated inductive approach (asking people to say what good work was) and a normative approach (the idea that we shouldn't put up with "bad" work in this era.). Bad work associated with poor productivity and reduced wellbeing and therefore extra social costs. In short it was bad not to have good work.

“No bad” Work?

It’s tempting to say we should have a category which pleases everyone we might call it “Nice Work” or “Not Too Bad Work” or maybe a Scottish version “No bad work”. The point is that when we actually drill down into the dimensions of what people think of as job quality it becomes even more elusive. Next week we will look at some of that evidence on that. In the meantime keep up the Good/No Bad work!

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