Fair Work Ministerial Working Group minutes: October 2020

Minutes from the meeting of the group on 21 October 2020.

Attendees and apologies


  • Mr Hepburn, Minister for Business, Fair Work and Skills

Attending Ministers:

  • Ms Campbell, Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government
  • Ms McKelvie, Minister for Older People and Equalities
  • Ms Todd, Minister for Children and Young People
  • Mr Wheelhouse, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands

Items and actions

Welcome and introductions

Mr Hepburn welcomed attendees to the fourth meeting of the group and apologies were noted. Mr Hepburn re-emphasised the remit of the group and its important role in promoting an ongoing cross-portfolio strategic focus, noting the First Minister’s support for this approach. The Minister also noted that businesses and unions are also keen to progress the Fair Work agenda, however, we have to note challenges in the labour market.

Minutes from last meeting

The minutes from the February meeting were accepted as accurate. Actions from previous meeting were fulfilled, and Mr Hepburn noted that publication of annual reporting would be covered in agenda item 4.

Covid-19 update – Mr Hepburn

The Minister emphasised the importance of maintaining a focus on Fair Work and pointed to the joint statement between the Scottish Government, the STUC, CoSLA, SCVO, the IoD and SCDI which promotes the shared commitment to putting Fair Work at the heart of our economic recovery. The inclusion of business organisations in signing up to the statement in March and refreshed statement in July was particularly welcome. 

The Minister highlighted the various safer workplaces sectoral guidance that has been developed, which highlighted Fair Work. He noted that homeworking circumstances are not ideal, but it is important that people are supported and feel they have a Fair Work environment, even when they aren’t in the workplace.

Mr Hepburn noted the weekly call he/Ms Hyslop have with STUC which is welcome engagement. A note has been shared with all Ministers and similar note has been shared with the Senior Civil Service (SCS) highlighting the importance of ongoing engagement with unions, i.e. work being undertaken across the SG should involve STUC and relevant affiliated unions.

The Programme for Government has several elements linking to the fair work agenda, including considering the feasibility for establishing a Centre for Workplace Transformation and a recruitment toolkit for supporting employers in recruiting more people from minority ethnic backgrounds, which was published in September. The Minister recognised that the labour market impact is not spread evenly, specifically, the impact of pandemic has disproportionally impacted ME workers, disabled workers and women. He invited the Group to agree that the remit of this group be extended to include race employment. There was general agreement from the group that this was a sensible approach.

Ms Campbell recognised that from her portfolio perspective, it is important to include race. In relation to tackling child poverty, she asked that we ensure there is explicit recognition of Fair Work in specific actions to support families who experience poverty. 

Ms Campbell also noted the importance of knitting together policies across portfolios as best we can. She highlighted that recommendations are likely to come through from Social Renewal Advisory Board (SRAB) on conditionality. There is a push for Fair Work practices and a great deal of alignment so it is worth making that point.  She provided an overview as follows: the board was established with Ms Somerville to share good practice. This covers a range of different policy areas, however, there are calls for more conditionality and more government work on using our influence. The board will be making recommendations by the end of year, a lot of this will look at employability and Fair Work as drivers for alleviating poverty.

Mr Hepburn acknowledged that the SRAB is a new area for Fair work to consider.

Ms McKelvie indicated she looks forward to recommendations of the SRAB and noted that those involved have been really proactive. She stressed that it is important to continue work towards making workforce more diverse – widening the ethnic minority recruitment pool, and closing Gender Pay Gap (GPG) are areas to get a fair balance. 

She highlighted the Safer Workplaces guidance which she had inherited from Mr Hepburn and the good work done on this. Thinking of social outcomes, she noted that we are ensuring the right support is available for working from home, and indicated that GPG stakeholders are involved in this work. She stressed that EQIAs must be done all the way through to ensure we don’t roll back on decisions or progress and continue learning from areas we can really advance in equality. Ms McKelvie was keen to emphasise and pull out examples of where there is cause for hope in our portfolios.

Ms Todd updated that, at the point the 1140 childcare scheme was paused, noting that it had become a postcode lottery in terms of access. Work is now underway to get the programme back on track – data at end of August was far more hopeful than imagined and reflected that:

  • 80% of children entitled to 1140 hours are getting more than 600 hours, 60% of children entitled are getting 1140 hours and significant progress has been made since then
  • 14 local authorities are providing 1140 hours. The refocus is explicitly on going first to people who need it most. Quite a hopeful story in amongst chaos. This is dependent on the level of progress made and further local lockdowns. For construction, a 10 week delay might be 9 months delay. For schools that are extended, contingency plans and back up plans may not be available
  • different local authorities are taking different approaches. North Lanarkshire has adopted but are inflexible, however, South Lanarkshire have worked hard to ensure that everyone who needs it has it and are working directly with parents about what they need. Good learning and stories from around the country

Mr Hepburn noted employers need to consider how they can support workers who need childcare. Ms Campbell noted that the entitlements for 2 year olds is of interest from a child poverty perspective. 

Mr Wheelhouse updated on the key thing within his portfolio at the moment, i.e. engagement with transport, RMT has been particularly good. Positive engagement with ferry companies for island connectivity, who have been supportive on Covid-19 work to ensure the quality of access to islands and protecting those living with Covid-19. An example of this is providing ferry services to enable people from North Ayrshire - typically low paid workers to travel to Arran to work.  

For green recovery and oil and gas – Mr Wheelhouse noted there has been more active engagement with STUC and oil and gas sector for off shore.  He highlighted the concern around the end of the furlough scheme, which is likely to bring a lot of redundancies as employers can’t justify furlough with no guarantees for jobs at the end. 

He noted that the oil and gas industry has its issues with trade union engagement, but that the Pandemic steering group was welcomed on both sides and they recognised it was good for the industry long term to have good engagement. Long term evolution of partnership engagement – many workers not directly employed by Shell etc. but brought in as contractors and so are more vulnerable. He noted that the Workforce Contractors Association is going well. The Minister noted that through the R100 programme – construction has raised unfair work practices around BT and Openreach, and recognised the importance of a two way communication channel for resolving these sorts of issues.

Mr Wheelhouse offered to gather together info on issues and engagement with the relevant unions, eg aviation has been flagged a few times. 

Annual reporting on Fair Work and Gender Pay Gap Action Plans

Mr Hepburn indicated that we are behind where we said we’d report – hoped to have annual report for Fair Work and Gender Pay Gap agreed to publish as single report in March 2020. We have now committed to publish these separately as we have had strong pushback from GPG stakeholders that a joint approach might mean an emphasis on GPG would be lost. 

The plan now is to publish update reports on the Fair Work and Gender Pay Gap Action Plans in January. The Minister is not inclined to make a statement to parliament, would rather have a debate on the broader fair work agenda.

He also suggested that Ministers should each write to individual committees providing publication link to the published reports to emphasise cross-cutting.

Ms McKelvie noted that the Race Equality Action Plan (REAP) has grown much bigger than employer outcomes and that she is just about to sign off ERG, which includes a number of recommendations. She further noted that what is published won’t be the final response. 

Ms McKelvie indicated that a report on the REAP is due soon, covering what has been learned from work ERG have done and where the race plan isn’t as strong as originally thought. She highlighted a letter going to co-chairs soon incorporating all recommendations and responses. She noted the amazing work which has been done to address this quickly. Next ERG meeting is the second week in November, when next steps will be decided what is next, eg, the ERG might split into looking like an academic advisory panel to consider what structural civic type work would be needed. 

Ms McKelvie has written to Ministers to ask them to consider these issues in their portfolio. She stressed the importance of ensuring we don’t build back in structural inequality in policy development and acknowledged there may be opportunity to join up with the Social Renewal Advisory Board.

Mr Hepburn noted the group is content with the proposed reporting arrangements.

Discussion paper – future direction of Fair Work (paper 3)

Mr Hepburn introduced the paper on the future of Fair Work. This overview reinforced our ongoing commitment to Fair Work, noting that the priorities we will be focusing on going forward are in line with the Action Plans, but will give added emphasis where it’s needed, such as workplace equality. 

Mr Hepburn asked the group what we should be doing on issues? Anything we’ve not considered that we should?

Ms Campbell stressed the need to do more to amplify Fair Work in terms of Child Poverty/doing more for priority families forced into poverty. She also noted that work was underway to try to support the third sector as they can’t currently get out to fundraise, which creates a funding gap. 

She also noted it was important to draw out issues in specific areas, such as inclusive issues in construction and highlighted the Sean Smith report on construction. She noted that Housing to 2040 provides an opportunity to change culture, including being more inclusive and looking at stereotypes of who gets to work in construction. This will be important when we come out of recession to have construction sector back up and running.

Mr Hepburn noted the significant challenge in terms of apprenticeships in construction and engineering, where men are more represented.

Ms Todd noted that Early Learning and Childcare is the other extreme on the lack of gender diversity and is keen to hear about ways for attracting more diverse workforce for children. Modern Apprenticeships had significantly higher number of males entering than other routes of learning to become ELC practitioners. 

She noted the impact on pausing the 1140 scheme, which provided a framework to include Fair Work. Despite working behind the scenes to get it built back in, it is difficult in particular for private nurseries when having to self-isolate. 

Mr Wheelhouse noted tension between unions in oil and gas and that the lack of registration for private sector in renewals and telecoms is still an issue. Key things – trend in oil and gas/renewals moving toward automation and digital, so the types of jobs and reskilling will result in lower headcount going forward. He noted the traditional view of roles in oil and gas which  means men dominating number of people working on platforms.

He highlighted that millennials are more sensitive to climate change agenda. The nature of off shore shift patterns mean they are perceived to be less family friendly and so more difficult to encourage women. Fair Work framework – workforce reps and Northlink contract insisted on framework being implemented. The Minister suggested it would be helpful to  amplify messaging around the Fair Work assessment tools. 

Mr Hepburn indicated he would be happy to attend the upcoming Sector Leadership Group  meeting for oil and gas to promote Fair Work. Mr Wheelhouse noted there is a standing item on the agenda on Fair Work led by unions so this could be an opportunity for Mr Hepburn to further emphasise the importance.

The Minister highlighted feedback from Scottish Enterprise (based on their early implementation) that Fair Work First is making a difference in terms of being able to influence employers to adopt fair work practices, e.g. paying the real Living Wage. 

Ms Campbell asked if there is an opportunity to link in community welfare approach. Regarding procurement in the public sector, she felt there was a need for a bit of push to make it work for communities. 

Officials confirmed we will pick up on Housing to 2040 and note on advisory board.


Mr Hepburn shared provisional dates for future meetings in April and October 2021.


  • Mr Wheelhouse will gather together info on engagement with trade unions and employers, capturing key issues in his portfolio
  • Fair Work and Gender Pay Gap Action Plans to be published in January. Officials to consider with Mr Hepburn if a debate on the broader fair work agenda would be appropriate, and when
  • Ministers to each write to individual committees providing publication link to the published reports to emphasise cross-cutting
  • Mr Hepburn happy to attend upcoming SLG meeting to promote Fair Work
  • Officials to consider how Fair Work can be embedded in Housing to 2040; also to consider recommendations from the advisory board in due course.
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