National Partnership for Culture: Workshop 2 – culture and fair work workshop report

Output Report for the meeting of the National Partnership for Culture on culture and fair work held in April 2021.

This report contains a high level summary of the main themes, issues and ideas advanced by participants at the above workshop.

This is an abridged version of the report. 

If you would like the full version, please email

Key outputs

Workshop discussion centred on the five dimensions of the Fair Work Framework and their application to the culture sector in Scotland. There was general consensus from participants in each of the themed discussion groups around the following priorities and proposed actions.

Effective voice

Developing respectful and reciprocal workplace relationships with cultural workers

Participants were supportive of the Fair Work Convention and the need to enforce fair work practices across the sector. Many saw leadership in publicly funded bodies as key to being accountable for their own working practices and what they fund.

The ongoing tension between salaried employment and freelance working across the sector was acknowledged, particularlry recognising the inherent discrimination that persists if the same rights afforded to salaried employees are not extended to freelancers and the two considered holistically.

The high number of self-employed, freelance workers and small organisations across the culture secto in Scotland makes it difficult to create change and establish industry standards and baselines.  

There is also a general sense that sector unions and union members do not have enough capacity to gather or respond to data requests around  fair work issues, particularly becuase of the pandemic.

Participants suggested the following actions:

  • enforce fair work practices and ensure bodies that receive public funding are accountable for their own practices and what they fund.
  • routes to enforcement could include through procurement contracts or via employment law rights. For example, the Scottish Government may be able to change the rules regarding employment tribunals to enable better access to justice and less personal risk for those who are discriminated against.
  • educate students and those embarking on a career in culture of their rights, the value of trade union membership and the support available to them. Museums Galleries Scotland (MGS) is currently developing a fair work manifesto to support the education of their sector that will simplify and inform where there might be a lack of understanding and capacity.
  • review union coverage across the sector and support culture sector(s)-specific unions to ensure practitioners do not have to become the union representative at the expense of their own careers. Unions and members should also have sufficient capacity to participate in information-gathering exercises which respond to fair work issues.


Providing fair and equal access to work and to progressing in work for the cultural workforce.

Participants perceived a skills gap in the sector around business skills and marketing. They suggested that traditional business models are not fit for purpose in the culture sector and need to be refined to meet the specific needs of the sector.

Concerns were raised about the sustainability of a career in the creative industries especially as a freelancer. The concerns recognised that progression is not always possible. This is heightened by a lack of diversity (including socio-economic) particularly at senior level and participants called for more diverse role models.

There was general agreement that fair work goes beyond the financial to behaviours and treatment and this must extend to all parts of the sector and to freelancers who are not office based.

Actions proposed by participants included:

  • hold public bodies to account by attaching fair work conditions to grant and funding agreements. Fair work practice should be consistent across the sector and everyone should be held to the same high standard. What does successful fair work practice look like in these organisations and who agrees the standard?
  • encourage organisations to empower their workforce by ensuring diverse representation on senior management teams as well as boards.
  • upskill senior management on managing individuals from different backgrounds and foster a strong understanding of the barriers to a career in the sector to inform approaches.
  • encourage people from diverse backgrounds to enter the sector by providing progression routes and upskilling opportunities.


Stabilising employment, securing working arrangements and income for the cultural workforce.

It was noted that Universal Basic Income could help support some creative practitioners if implemented.

Universal Basic Income or equivalent schemes have the potential to support artists' practice and other practitioners who specialise in creating and delivering cultural experiences. UBI could also improve the diversity of the sector and the family life and mental health of artists and other cultural practitioners.

Universal Basic Income would also allow greater participation of audiences. Participants recognised that full implementation would require constitutional changes that seem unlikely without Scottish independence. There was strong support for this from creative unions and Scottish Contemporary Arts Network.

Participants expressed concern about how artists and other practitioners who specialise in creating and delivering cultural experiences currently subsidise the sector and how the pandemic has worsened conditions for many artists and freelance cultural workers, contributing to more creatives leaving the sector.

Participants acknowledged that to have assurance of a fairer sector, if this does not imply a smaller sector, then the sector may need more funding in order to be sustainable. It was noted that security goes beyond work rates and includes pensions, sick pay and other financial benefits of employment.

Suggested actions included:

  • further explore Universal Basic Income (or similar schemes) as a long-term policy commitment and ensure that the specific needs of cultural freelance workers are factored into any pilot schemes.
  • strengthen conditionality on fair work by doing more to insist that fair work is adhered to by those receiving public funds and commit to a date by which those not in compliance will not receive further funding.
  • more comprehensive guidance and messaging from the Scottish Government on fair work including taking account of freelancer issues and volunteering. This should acknowledge that safeguarding/whistle-blowing measures may be needed as well as measures to ensure disabled artists and other cultural workers are not unfairly disadvantaged.


Accessing work that is as fulfilling as it is capable of being for cultural workers

For many participants training and development was seen as key with peer to peer training being positive for both mentees and mentors and apprenticeships successful at getting people into the sector.

It was noted that sometimes apprenticeships and training are inconsistently funded across the different culture sectors. This is because funding is often diverted to short term priorities at the expense of long term priorities elsewhere.

The culture sector employs many workers in non-creative roles. The pandemic has enabled cultural workers to demonstrate a wide range of skills that are not always visible.

The group agreed that cultural workers should be more transparent and mutually supportive,  rather than competing in a way that perpetuates unfair work practices.

Participants suggested the following priorities for action:

  • better coordinate training and skills from national agencies with a focus on accountability from those receiving funds to ensure they are used effectively for meaningful apprenticeships and training that will lead to employment. Agencies should maintain a co-ordinated overview of culture sector-specific education and employment requirements to prevent duplication and identify emerging skills gaps.
  • value creative skillsets and recognise their unique quality by developing new training models which better support sustainable depth of practice and value developing skills about creativity or community engagement which are crucial in a wellbeing economy.
  • ring-fence funding for cultural workers who do not have access to training through an organisation. Funds could be provided direct to practitioners to secure their own training, making the process more tailored to specific needs. Funding should recognise time/cost spent during the application process.
  • encourage greater transparency in the sector around, for example, who is funded and what they spend it on, rates of pay, what opportunities are available, the length of roles, terms of employment and how harassment/abuse is reported.


Respecting the cultural workforce and recognising their standing and personal worth

Participants noted the lack of evidence around respect. They considered how respect should be defined and what codes of practice for respect and fair work might look like.

There was general agreement that people across the sector need to know their rights. There was a perception that unions could help make writers and other creative freelancers aware of their rights. However the participants recognised that this would only happen if there was greater consultation and co-operation between cultural and funding bodies, employers and the unions. 

Participants suggested the following actions:

  • develop effective mechanisms through which organisations can gather and act on information to support diversity. These must provide a safe method for constructive feedback which will not adversely affect the respondent.
  • consider how new digital ways of working are factored into a respectful relationship in the workplace and sector and how this is valued and paid for so that artists and other cultural freelancers are neither subsidising this nor providing it for free.
  • develop more sustainable funding models to avoid short term project funding and ‘just in time’ funding of Agencies and funded organisations. Funding models should enable sustainable skills development, empower people to do their best and most impactful work and address the timing of funding decisions and impacts on freelance workers in particular.
  • ensure payment terms for freelancers, self-employed and SMEs, in particular, are strictly adhered to and can be safely challenged.

National Partnership for Culture Secretariat - June 2021

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