Fears over Scottish ‘underemployment’

Murdo Fraser says unemployment is only part of the problem. Picture: Julie Bull
Murdo Fraser says unemployment is only part of the problem. Picture: Julie Bull
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Action to address ‘underemployment’ is needed before it becomes embedded, according to a Holyrood committee convener.

The term refers to people working fewer hours than they want to, or taking on jobs which do not use all their skills.

It was the focus of an inquiry which warned that the problem has grown significantly since the onset of the economic crisis five years ago, which hit young people particularly.

General unemployment is just one side of the story, according to Murdo Fraser who leads the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee.

“Underemployment can have a similarly devastating impact on income and on the ability to secure long-term employment,” he said.


“Whilst underemployment may decline when demand returns to the economy, we need action now to prevent negative labour market trends becoming embedded in Scotland.”

The committee published the results of its inquiry into the problem, calling on the Government to take action.

Skills should be better aligned to employment opportunities through work with colleges, and access to further education should be improved for underemployed people.

The use of zero-hour contracts, which do not guarantee work to employees, should also be investigated. Conditions could be attached in the procurement process for contracts awarded by public bodies, the committee said.

Deputy committee convener Dennis Robertson said: “The committee was particularly concerned about the impact of underemployment on young people and women.


“There was also evidence suggesting that other people with protected characteristics, particularly disabled people, may be disproportionately affected by underemployment and we have called for more data to be collected on employment trends for these groups.”

A Scottish Government spokesman: “Like the committee, we believe levels of underemployment will reduce as we continue to emerge from the economic downturn.

“The government is always open to suggestions on what more can be done, within our limited powers to address the negative impacts of underemployment here and now and will consider the report’s recommendations carefully, however work is already underway in a number of the areas highlighted for action.

“For example, the Commission for Developing Scotland’s Young Workforce, led by Sir Ian Wood, is currently considering how young people can make an effective transition through the education system and be better prepared to succeed in the world of work.”