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Agenda:

MOST trade unionists agree with the STUC that the lack of discussion on the labour market forms a gaping hole in the independence debate.

Good-quality jobs are scarce, as casual labour becomes the norm. Young people like me often have no choice but to accept zero-hours contracts with poor conditions.

Two new reports have begun to fill this void. The Wood Report addresses skills development for Scotland's young workforce and suggests it is integral to tackling youth unemployment. It points out 53,000 young people in Scotland are neither in work nor in education, and the young person's unemployment rate in Scotland is 18.8 per cent. Sir Ian's solution is integration between employers, colleges and government.

But while skills development is part of reducing unemployment rates, it is not the whole story and the Wood Report does not focus specifically on the labour market. The report says: "Employers have lost the habit of employing young people", but does not take into account the relationship of youth unemployment to overall unemployment. Its tight focus on getting young people into work avoids considering whether this work is long-term or under good conditions.

Another report published this week, the second report of the Expert Working Group on Welfare, made recommendations far beyond the remit of welfare - that the National Minimum Wage, currently £6.31 an hour for those over 21, should begin to rise so that in time it will equal the Living Wage, currently £7.65 an hour.

These proposals spell progress, but why were they made by a welfare commission and a skills commission rather than a labour market commission?

The answer: although the SNP seeks labour market reform, it approaches it from the angle of Government partnership with business. In the SNP's White Paper proposals for governance, the labour market is somewhere in between the Education, Skills and Employment portfolio and the one covering Finance and Economy. Challenging this skewed focus demands vigorous debate on labour market reform in an independent Scotland.

These two reports demonstrate the need for a new political spectrum in an independent Scotland. At Westminster, Labour has focussed on the labour market with discussion of wages and contracts, a target to link minimum wages to average earnings, and plans to tackle zero-hours contracts.

In an independent Scotland, Labour could commit to transforming the nature of work at a higher level, for instance by reinstating the trade union link, or by creating a portfolio for labour.

Under the Scottish Government's preferred terms, contracts would be scrutinised less within workplaces, since wages were to be negotiated by government. Labour could challenge the proposal that power to set wages should be taken out of the hands of workers, to make workplace bargaining more important than influencing Government. Collective bargaining solves this problem, as workers are likely to include contracts as well as wages in negotiations.

Scottish Labour could challenge the idea Government should set wages at whatever an independent body defines as a "living wage". Ed Miliband's minimum wage plans are closer to how wages should operate - reflecting economic relationships in society rather than what Government dictates is the correct wage.

Scottish Labour could move towards wages being set by workers rather than Government, and challenge the SNP's focus on centralisation, especially over the labour market. It makes no sense to focus on a living wage, which each employer might grudgingly meet, rather than on giving workers power to gain the wages they deserve. This is why the STUC called the living wage proposal a "modest but nonetheless positive proposal".

If there is a Yes vote in September, the Labour Party will need to engage with these questions, showing it can challenge the SNP from the left.

Contextual targeting label: 
Local government

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