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Revealed: the brutal reality of low paid work in Scotland

This news post is almost 8 years old

​Research contrasts what low paid workers want - and what they actually get

The massive gulf between what low paid workers believe is needed for a decent working life and the reality they live with has been laid bare.

A third sector and academic tie-up has shown the disparity between workplace needs and actual conditions.

The study, commissioned by Oxfam Scotland, follows a Scotland-wide consultation with more than 1500 people by charity and the University of the West of Scotland.

Participants in the project, called Decent work for Scotland’s low-paid workers: a job to be done, were asked: “What makes for decent work?”.

Too often paid work fails to serve as a reliable route out of poverty

Their answers have been put beside statistics showing the reality in Scotland’s labour market.

Workers prioritised a total of 26 different factors, the top five of which are fairly basic conditions which workers should be able to expect – but an assessment of the realities of the labour market suggests that Scotland is failing to deliver them.

For example they said they should be paid a decent hourly rate when the reality is that one in five employees are paid less than the voluntary £8.25 and hour living wage.

Job security was mentioned as an important factor - but 138,000 employees are on temporary contracts in Scotland.

Workers surveyed said they expect paid leave, but 118,000 employees do not receive the statutory minimum paid holidays and a safe working environment. However, 88,000 Scottish workers have reported illness caused or made worse by work in the previous twelve months.

Meanwhile, staff demanded a supportive manager – but 324,000 adults in work feel their line manager does not support them.

Francis Stuart, Oxfam Scotland’s research and policy adviser, said: “Too often paid work fails to serve as a reliable route out of poverty – that should concern us all at a time when so many people are in work, but still struggling financially.

“Policymakers still tend to focus on increasing employment rates without paying enough attention to the quality of work created. This research shows the quality of employment is critically important to people’s lives and that a decent hourly rate is only one part of the story.

“This research makes clear there is a significant job to do to improve the quality of work available in Scotland. It also makes a number of recommendations to the Scottish Government and employers to achieve this. Scotland can make major progress towards the delivery of decent work for all but the voices of low-paid workers must drive this effort.”

Dr Hartwig Pautz, lecturer in social sciences at the University of the West of Scotland, said: “Our research shows that a large number of workers lack what should be basic features of a decent job such as a permanent, secure contract, paid holidays, and a supportive line manager. Significant numbers also feel they are not being paid fairly compared to other jobs and do not have opportunities to progress in their current workplace. Too many of Scotland’s workers find themselves in paid employment lacking even these basic features of work.

“We know, from research on health inequalities and social determinants of health, that poor quality work can affect people’s health and general wellbeing quite adversely when it does not satisfy at least the basic characteristics of decent work.

“For Scotland to have so many in this situation is very problematic, given that there is already immense health inequality in Scotland.”