In the newly published 'Fair Work Action Plan', the Scottish Government sets out their ambition to make Scotland the best country in which to live, work, invest and do business in, whilst at the same time prioritising fair working practices and protection for workers. Whilst employment law is reserved to the UK Government, the Scottish Government has pledged to do all that they can to promote fair working practices in Scotland and encourage investment from overseas to try and mitigate the impact of Brexit on Scotland's workforce


In October 2018, Scotland's First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that the Scottish Government would adopt a new default position with regard to contracts and government support grants, which would widen the remit of 'Fair Work' criteria to include:

  • a clamp down on exploitative zero hour contracts;
  • a larger investment in skills and training;
  • immediate action on the gender pay gap;
  • a renewed emphasis on genuine workforce engagement, specifically with recognised trade unions; and
  • encouragement of the payment of the living wage.

The idea behind the new default position was for more job security and better pay for all, along with a greater voice for the workers themselves. The Scottish Government planned to extend the benefit of public contracts to small business and local supply chains where the fair work criteria was implemented and upheld.

What has been achieved so far?

According to the Scottish Government's website, the following achievements have been made to date:

  • exceeding their target of 1000 Scots-based living wage accredited employers (now over 1300);
  • introduction of statutory guidance on addressing Fair Work Practices, including the real Living Wage;
  • introduction of the Workplace Equality Fund to deliver employer-led innovative solutions to overcome workforce inequality;
  • introduction of the Women Returners Programme to assist women to re-enter the workforce following a career break;
  • promotion of development of flexible workplaces through continued funding of Family Flexible Working Scotland; and
  • reaching a Fair Work Agreement between Scottish Ministers and Civil Service Trade Unions.

Fair Work: The ongoing commitment

The newly published 'Fair Work Action Plan' outlines the Scottish Government's ambitions to achieve their goal of Scotland being a world-leading Fair Work Nation by 2025 by pledging to:

  • create a new Fair Work service for small and micro employers so they can access support and guidance from a central point;
  • create a new accessible benchmarking tool which will be made available to help employers access their current practices and provide guidance on how to make their workplace a more fair and attractive place to work. The benchmarking tool will identify practical steps that employers can take to progress their Fair Work environment;
  • establish the Scottish National Investment Bank and National Manufacturing Institute for Scotland;
  • increase the number of people employed who are paid the real Living Wage by 25,000 over the next three years;
  • host an international Fair Work Summit with the Fair Work Convention to share best practice;
  • launch a 'Come to Scotland' campaign to attract talent and investment and help mitigate the impact of Brexit; and
  • embed Fair Work across Scottish Government portfolios and demonstrating leadership as an employer in adopting Fair Work practices.

What does this mean for Scottish employers?

The measures introduced by the plan are aimed at helping to support employers to adopt fairer and more flexible working practices. Two of the key factors within the plan are:

  • Paying the real Living Wage. Studies have shown that employers who pay the real Living Wage have a more productive workforce, lower absenteeism and higher staff morale. Scotland has the highest proportion of employees being paid at least the real Living Wage of all four UK nations at 80.6% (ahead of England at 77.1%, Wales at 74.0%, Northern Ireland at 72.3% and the UK as a whole at 77.2%). The report comments that employers will struggle to attract the best talent if they pay less than the encouraged Living Wage.
  • Adopting flexible working practices: The Government is also pushing for a higher proportion of employers to be open to more flexible working patterns, especially in respect of woman who have had a career break. A study by Family Friendly Working Scotland (an organisation working with employers, families and others to promote a flexible and family friendly working culture), discovered that nearly 95% of Scots believe a work-life balance is at least as important as salary, with a third of the population stating that it is more important to them than what they earn. Family Friendly Working Scotland wants all jobs in Scotland advertised as flexible by default unless there is a business reason not to.


It is clear that employers in Scotland who wish to attract and retain the talent need to keep up with modern working practices and learn to adapt to the ever changing working cultures that are now almost demanded by the graduate. A lot is said about the millennial professional and their specific set of characteristics, however, one that seems to extend more generally across the workforce is the new want and expectation of flexible working patterns and personal time. As much as Generation X (and, to a certain extent Generation Y), were happy to conform to the working week of Monday to Friday 9 to 5 in an office based environment, this is no longer how business is done and employers need to continue thinking about offering a wider range of working patterns to their employers – especially if they want to attract and retain the best candidates.

The 'Fair Work Action Plan' aims to drive up productivity and maximise opportunities for employees. The Scottish Government does not have the power to make Fair Work a legal requirement but they have made it clear that they intend to make it a reality for as many as possible, so it will be interesting to see how this progresses over the next few years.

Fair Work Action Plan