Fair Work First: guidance to support implementation

Update September 2021: this guidance has been updated to take into account the two additional criteria on flexible working and fire and rehire practices. The updated guidance is at https://www.gov.scot/publications/fair-work-first-guidance/ .

Purpose Of The Fair Work First Guidance

Who the guidance is for

It is intended for those who are involved in awarding public sector grants, other funding and public contracts as well as those who receive funding through public sector grants, sponsorship arrangements with the Scottish Government and/or are involved in the delivery of contracts. In this regard, public bodies should give due regard to their dual role as an employer and in administering public funding.

Throughout the guidance, the terms 'employer', 'business' and 'organisation' are used interchangeably to describe the range of private, public and third sector organisations within the labour market and to which Fair Work First can be applied.  

What the guidance aims to achieve 

This guidance is designed to encourage and support employers to adopt fair work practices within their organisation.  

In rolling out Fair Work First, the Scottish Government is primarily interested in the steps the employer is taking to deliver good quality and fair work. While Fair Work is relevant for all employers and all workers, the context in which it can be applied will vary depending on factors such as the type and size of the organisation and the sector and location in which it operates.  The guidance aims to help organisations to identify and progress their fair work priorities as part of their continuous improvement approach. It does not set a minimum standard but provides direction on how the Fair Work First criteria can be adopted.  It provides scope for organisations to do so in a way that is relevant and proportionate to the activity and/or contract they have agreed to deliver.    

Learning from good practice

The guidance provides examples of what the Fair Work First criteria means in practice, which are intended to guide organisations in their approach.  The examples are neither prescriptive nor exhaustive and employers should not feel limited in considering how workplace practices can be strengthened to enhance workers' experiences at work.

Fair Work First: the approach and what it aims to achieve

Fair Work First is the Scottish Government's flagship policy for driving high quality and fair work across the labour market in Scotland by applying fair work criteria to grants, other funding and contracts being awarded by and across the public sector, where it is relevant to do so. Through this approach the Scottish Government is asking employers to adopt fair working practices, specifically:

  • appropriate channels for effective voice, such as trade union recognition;
  • investment in workforce development;
  • no inappropriate use of zero hours contracts;
  • action to tackle the gender pay gap and create a more diverse and inclusive workplace; and
  • * payment of the real Living Wage.

Note: * those involved in procurements should refer to the Statutory Guidance, Best Practice guidance and toolkit to understand how to consider fair pay for workers, including payment of the real Living Wage, in the procurement process.

These criteria seek to address particular challenges in the labour market, to make a real difference to people and their communities, business and other organisations and the economy.  

The value of Fair Work First was highlighted by the Advisory Group for Economic Recovery (AGER) in its June 2020 report, where it recognised Fair Work First as a form of conditionality which encourages and rewards employers adopting fair work practices, and which is encouraging good practice.

Fair Work First relationship with the Scottish Business Pledge

The Scottish Business Pledge, like Fair Work First, aims to promote fairness, equality and opportunity in Scotland, helping to create greater economic success and sustainable, inclusive growth. 

Accordingly, the Fair Work First criteria is included in the Business Pledge: three of the criteria are core elements of the Pledge and the other two criteria are reflected in the optional elements of the Pledge.  Some elements of the Pledge cover issues that are wider than Fair Work, including addressing issues such as environmental impact, innovation and internationalisation; while the adoption of fair work will have a positive impact on these elements they are not included in Fair Work First criteria.


Email: jack.keays@gov.scot

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