The independent review of working practices in Scotland’s construction industry was published this month by the Fair Work Convention. The reveiew calls for urgent interventions by government, employers, unions and industry leadership groups to improve the quality of work for the 130,000-strong workforce in Scotland and to help embed fair work into Scotland’s £7bn construction industry.
The report, Building Fair Work into the Construction Industry – Fair Work Convention Construction Inquiry Report 2022, investigates and highlights the challenges and opportunities relating to fair work across the industry. It includes recommendations for the Scottish government to support and facilitate better partnership working across the industry and for all public bodies to make better use of fair work conditions within procurement to drive up standards. “With public sector procurement responsible for around 50% of construction spend in Scotland, addressing fair work in procurement can play a key role in shaping the industry and driving better fair work practice in construction,” it says.
The work was led by Fair Work Convention’s Mary Alexander – who is deputy regional secretary for Unite the Union in Scotland – and Fair Work Convention co-chair Professor Patricia Findlay, who is director of the Scottish Centre for Employment Research. The two-year inquiry involved engagement with stakeholders across the industry guided by an expert working group and research on the employment experiences of workers.
Alexander said: “Fair work is fundamental to the future growth of the construction industry and its ability to meet the challenges of automation and climate change. Yet too many construction workers still face problems at work and the over-reliance on outsourced labour creates a barrier to training, upskilling and effective modernisation of the industry.
“Wider adoption of fair work is essential to create a high quality, high value, construction industry, fit for the future.”
Findlay added: “The construction industry has an important role to play in our economy and society, particularly in delivering a net zero carbon future.
“It is crucial that the actions of the Scottish government and other public bodies and agencies – either in procurement, in skills or in investment – fully support our recommendations and make fair work a reality for all workers in the construction industry.”
The inquiry found that:
while many employers’ have taken steps to embed fair work in their business, the construction industry is not consistently delivering fair work;
there are a range of fair work challenges around job insecurity and lack of direct employment, bullying and harassment, mental ill-health, exercising effective voice and raising concerns on sites, equality and diversity, and access to training and continued professional development;
the existing fair work provisions within procurement are having limited impact on the experience of workers on the ground, and;
that there are a range of Sectoral Collective Agreements that are estimated to cover around 62% of the employed workforce and that together these represent a set of minimum standards for the industry that should be strengthened and more rigorously applied to improve outcomes for all workers.
The report found that skill shortages are both a challenge and an opportunity to bring new talent into the industry, with an estimated 79,100 additional workers needed in construction in Scotland by 2029. The construction industry is at the forefront of the transition to a net-zero-carbon economy with 40% of national carbon emissions coming from the built environment, but also faces an ageing workforce with 50,000 workers expected to retire in the next 10 years, says the report. The need to transition to a net-zero-carbon economy and undertake extensive retrofitting of existing building stock raises new challenges around skills and investment but also offers an opportunity to transform ways of working and offer high-quality work to a greater range of people.
The inquiry concluded that this is a key moment of change in the industry but the building blocks for collaborative working and supporting skills, standards and fair work all exist already.
Effective leadership is key, says the report, which requires collaborative working, effective workforce planning and a focus on fair work that is meaningfully applied throughout the supply chain. It is important that government and other public agencies support the existing collective agreements and promote their use and effective implementation. Recognising, valuing and using these agreements along with collaborative and inclusive ways of working in the industry will create a level playing field between employers, ending the race to the bottom in the industry, and support better and fairer outcomes for the workforce, it said.