Scotland politics

Workplace equality focus of new labour market strategy

Jamie Hepburn on visit to Scottish Gas training academy
Image caption Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn launched the new strategy on a visit to the Scottish Gas training academy in South Lanarkshire

A plan which promises to put fairness "at the heart" of a drive to develop a skilled workplace has been launched by the Scottish government.

The new labour market strategy was outlined by Employability Minister Jamie Hepburn.

He said improving workplace equality was key to boosting the economy and pledged £820,000 to tackle the issue.

Earlier this week, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said growing the onshore economy was her priority.

Her comments came in response to official Scottish government statistics which showed Scotland's public spending deficit stood at £14.8bn in the past financial year amid plummeting oil revenues.

Mr Hepburn launched the labour market strategy during a visit to the Scottish Gas training academy in Hamilton, South Lanarkshire.

Commitments include:

  • Creating a strategic labour market group to advise ministers on future developments
  • Up to £500,000 to support the work of the Fair Work Convention
  • Use of new powers to better align employability support in Scotland
  • £200,000 to support for the National Action Plan for Responsible Business
  • £110,000 for the Fit Work Project
  • £10,000 to sponsor of the Fair Work Employer of the Year award
  • The development of a Workplace Equality Fund
  • Continued investment in sustainable physical and digital infrastructure

Mr Hepburn said: "Creating a fairer society is not just a desirable goal in itself, but is essential to the sustained, long-term prosperity of the Scottish economy.

"We have consistently demonstrated our commitment to a different and more inclusive approach to our economy. An approach that is supported by a growing body of evidence which shows that countries with more equal societies typically enjoy stronger and more sustainable growth.

He said the Scottish government was focused on working with employers and unions to create "more, better paid, quality jobs".

Jane Wood, managing director of Business in the Community Scotland, said: "A strong and fair labour market is a critical pre-condition for the achievement of sustained and inclusive growth, which is a hallmark of a successful business.

"We are particularly pleased that the labour market strategy describes a commitment which is shared by our members and with Scottish government to create a Scottish national action plan for responsible business.

"This is a unique collaboration in which businesses will work together and with government to set the agenda for more inclusive growth for business and society."

Future business demand

The Scottish Conservatives said the aims of the new strategy were "very worthy" but that it "missed the point".

Murdo Fraser, the party's finance spokesman, added: "We have the Scottish economy under performing the UK economy as a whole.

"We have a productivity gap between Scottish performance and the rest of the UK.

"There's very little in this document that will help address these fundamental issues and in particular there's very little in this proposal to help businesses, at the heart of this, improve their performance and help deliver better conditions."

The Scottish Greens said too many people were "stuck in jobs that are badly paid and insecure".

Co-convenor Patrick Harvie added: "It's welcome to see the Scottish government talking about replacing the Work Programme and Work Choices schemes that will be devolved next year but it remains a concern that they have not committed to adopting our proposal to block the DWP from continuing to apply benefit sanctions, which cause hardship, harm people's health and set back their journey into employment."

Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said more consultation was needed with businesses.

"The challenge now is for the education and skills sector to plan for and meet the needs of future business demand, and that is why a labour market strategy for Scotland is welcome," she said.

"However, our early impressions of this strategy are that it appears to marginalise the central role that business demand ought to have in any coherent plan for Scotland's future.

"We will be consulting with our network across Scotland to gain a detailed insight into how the new strategy is viewed by businesses. It is essential for our economy that the Scottish government gets this right and we will work to help them achieve that."

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