Could Employment Law be Devolved to Scotland?

by Emma Flood Curated Media on February 27, 2015

Scots Law EmploymentIn recent Parliamentary debate, the Scottish Government have called for full devolution of employment law making powers to Scotland. This comes as a rise in unfair working practices and an alleged failure by Westminster to tackle these problems.

This post looks at the difficulties faced by Scottish workers and how proposed changes to the law could tackle these problems.

What problems are faced by Scottish workers?

According to a recently published report, a large number of Scottish workers are facing “difficult, complex and miserable” working lives due to unfair employment practices.

The report by The Scottish Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) entitled ‘Fair Enough?’ sets out the problems with the current employment law system in detail and has also proposed legal solutions to tackle these problems.

Last year, the service dealt with 46,540 cases of unfair treatment in the workplace, a number that is expected to continue to rise if not adequately addressed.

The cases dealt with include cases of dismissal for unfair reasons such as sickness, attempting to take holiday or pregnancy. Some workers were even informed of their dismissal by text message.

CAS spokesman Rob Gowans said:

“The evidence we present today is a snapshot of the kind of employment cases we see. All of the problems we identify in this report can be fixed, and we suggest ways of doing that.”

Further examples of unfair working practices detailed in the report include unlawful deductions of wages or workers not being paid at all, racism and sexist bulling and also exploitation of migrant workers.

How could the law tackle these problems?

The suggestions for changes to the system for tackling employment law issues are as follows:

  • Making changes to the employment tribunal system
  • Improving the rights of workers with zero-hour contracts
  • Creating a new statutory body, the Employment Commission to ensure enforcement of employment law. This body would be given strong ‘legislative teeth’ to tackle employers who did not comply.
  • Additional resources to ensure payment of the minimum wage is enforced.
  • Additional efforts to ensure that employers pay income tax and national insurance on behalf of employees.

Best to have all employment law powers devolved to Scotland?

The Scottish Government have made clear that the best way for Scotland to implement these changes is to have all powers relating to employment law devolved to Scotland. This would allow the government to prioritise Scottish problems and tackle employment issues more effectively.

Furthermore, the debate prior to the SNP announcement that they are calling for full devolution of employment law to Scotland highlighted the continual failure of Westminster governments on the issue of ‘umbrella companies’.

The treasury published a report in 2008 that was highly critical of the practices of umbrella companies, however the government decided not to make any changes to the law.

Umbrella companies continue to pose a threat to workers rights and the SNP will look to tackle these practices if full powers in relation to employment are devolved.

At present however, the Scottish government is still taking steps to ensure a fairer working life for employees in Scotland. The Fair Work Convention set up by the Scottish government aims to promote fairness in the workplace and boost sustainable growth. In particular, the convention tackles inequality and promotes the living wage.

SNP MSP Gordon MacDonald, said:

“A strong team of SNP MPs elected in May will always stand up for workers’ rights at Westminster – and will use our clout to argue for full powers over fair work to be transferred to Scotland to allow us to tackle unacceptable employment practices and guarantee a better deal for workers.”

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