Scotland faces a jobs challenge. It’s never been more important to have bold, ambitious voices in our parliament to ensure we plan ahead. Work in industries that Scotland has relied on in years past are no longer able to provide certainty. Young people in the North East whose parents and grandparents have made a good living from the oil and gas sector are faced with a declining industry. Transferring skills into the industries of the future must be our priority. Pinning hopes on yet more extraction of resources which have become more a liability than an asset gives no-one job security.
The impact of the decline in the oil sector is felt across the Scottish economy. Analysis from the Bank of Scotland recently showed that the Scottish private sector has been shedding jobs faster than the rest of the UK because of insecurity stemming from the North East.
Research carried out for the Scottish Greens shows that there are 204,000 more jobs up for grabs if we focus investment in clean, long-lasting alternatives. Yes, that means renewables but it also means making energy efficiency improvements to our housing stock and adapting key assets such as Grangemouth to use alternatives to fossil fuels for manufacturing.
We also need to see the Scottish Government going much further with its Fair Work agenda. It’s unacceptable for publicly-funded business support to be made available to companies who don’t pay the Living Wage, fail on equal pay or fail to live up to Scotland’s climate change ambitions. Support should be going to responsible businesses.
Graduates and young people weighing up their career choices this spring face entering employment that is insecure and poorly paid. Big retail chains still use zero-hours contracts, while in the care sector it’s still a struggle to get such vital work adequately rewarded. Recruitment problems in the care sector are contributing to the delayed discharges in our hospitals, which in turn impacts on the wider health service and the NHS budget.
Once prestigious and well-paid professions, such as journalism and further education, are increasingly badly paid and temporary. Self-employment has gone up dramatically, with 11 per cent of all Scots in work now working for themselves.
Automation of work presents us with another huge challenge. Recently, Professor Moshe Vardi from Rice University warned the American Association for the Advancement of Science that technology could threaten over 50 per cent of jobs within the next three decades. The meaning of work is set to change dramatically, as is the type of work which will sustain proper, well paid jobs.
And even the most basic rights at work are under threat. With their Trade Union Bill, the Tories are trying to tighten their grip over employee representation, tipping the balance of power more towards employers. A bolder Holyrood is vital to protect Scottish workers from this assault.
Entering the world of work in today’s economy can be daunting but it doesn’t have to be that way. People around Scotland have begun to tap into new opportunities in order to escape a labour market that is failing them. The co-operative and social enterprise models of business are continuing to gain traction. Workers’ co-ops put power into employees’ hands, ensuring businesses are run on the terms of the people who work for them.
Community groups from Harlaw Hydro to the Applecross Community Company are showing that energy production needn’t just be for big business.
Coupled with the challenge of a changing economy, the longstanding Green policy of a Citizen’s Income is also gaining traction. With a monthly universal entitlement rather than means-tested, complicated benefits, people would be able to volunteer as well as take on short-term contracts and freelance opportunities, all safe in the knowledge that their basic income is guaranteed.
That long-term aim still stands but in the meantime we should be prepared to use the new powers of devolution creatively, to deliver a fairer taxation system and humane social security.
Solutions to Scotland’s jobs challenge are all around us but those at the top are slow to get on board. We owe it to the Scottish workforce of today and of the future to pick up the pace, and be bold.
Patrick Harvie MSP is Co-convener of the Scottish Greens and is the party’s spokesperson on Finance and the Economy