As GCVS launches new research into Fair Work within the third sector, we reflect on some of the findings and next steps.
“… we have to respect, reward and value people who dedicate their working lives to helping others and building a better society. They deserve the best, not compromise.”
Ian Bruce, CEO, GCVS July 2023
Over the last decade – and for longer – the third sector has consistently stepped up, quickly and compassionately, to assist people in real need. Charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises have worked alongside families and communities, helping practically whilst ensuring their voices and experience are heard by Government and public bodies.
Our sector’s commitment to creating the best communities in every part of Scotland has repeatedly been evidenced in activism and action. Employees who work in the third sector are often driven by the deep injustices they see and the ways in which some communities are swept aside in our increasingly turbulent world. Too often now, we find ourselves doing what public bodies used to do; we are working in more complex situations and with people in deep personal crises.
Much of what we do is now life critical, yet, our sector is not funded sufficiently to do all of this. Nor does it mean that our sector’s contribution in these situations has been fully respected or valued.
‘Respect, ‘value’ and ‘parity’ are themes that shine like neon lights in “Fair Work in the Third Sector in Scotland, launched last week.
This research examined how the third sector is taking forward Fair Work, commissioned by GCVS and carried out by colleagues at Strathclyde University. The picture is both worrying and inspiring; we see a sector fighting to survive, yet employees who remain committed to their work and to the communities they serve. We see employers who try creatively to address staff retention even within the limits created by standstill or reduced funding streams.
One of the most powerful messages at the research launch event came from Fatima of Govanhill Baths Community Trust, who reminded us that austerity isn’t just a current challenge for the third sector – it’s been the background to our work for at least the last two decades. The inability to pay staff at levels commensurate with their commitment and expertise is hitting people hard. The sector has been the first to take the hit when we face public finance issues.
This research highlights unfairness that we must no longer tolerate. As Russell Gunson of the Robertson Trust pointed out, such inequity and continually stressful operating conditions are almost expected. That doesn’t mean they are acceptable or morally right.
Government and public bodies ask much of us, and we welcome the continued commitment from the Scottish Government to work with us. Neil Gray, Cabinet Secretary for the Wellbeing Economy, Fair Work and Energy, acknowledged the sector’s importance at the research launch and the increasing demands it faces amidst spiralling funding and inflationary pressures.
We all face the same social and economic challenges. We all have a part to play in responding to these. The third sector must be strategically placed where policy and funding decisions are made, yet, despite being a significant player in areas such as social care, recent local and Scottish Government accords did not involve us.
A disappointing omission.
Many important national developments drive forward the Fair Work agenda, such as Fair Work First. There is a commitment to creating better work for all, but as long as the funding open to the third sector remains short-term and unstable, we cannot fully progress the intention to create a Fair Work nation.
We hope this research is a wake-up call and a moment in time when we can all come together to shape change that we know is so desperately, desperately needed. Let’s start with the Programme for Government and Scottish Budget, due later this year.
‘Fair Work in the Third Sector in Scotland’ tells us that a sector with a workforce of over 130,000, and an economic contribution of billions per year, is struggling to pay staff fairly and give them job security. Yet, it’s a sector of committed, compassionate individuals who can and should be helping shape this country’s future. That contribution could be magnified with respect, value and parity for our sector.
We leave the final words to The Robertson Trust, which helped to fund this research, as to why action to ensure Fair Work within the third sector matters:
“Fair Work in the Third Sector in Scotland” shines a light on the conditions faced by diverse organisations driven by social purpose. It does this in the midst of searing cost pressures which have become, for many, a cost-of-survival crisis….Fair work for the people in our sector is a condition for achieving the social change we stand for.”
Dr Jim McCormick, Chief Executive, The Robertson Trust
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