Plans for a 48-hour cap on the working week in Scotland have been put forward by Labour to tackle a culture of “long hours and job monotony”.
The move could benefit 250,000 Scots in high pressure workplaces such as the NHS as part of a new industrial strategy for Scotland.
Labour leader Kezia Dugdale is calling on the UK and Scottish Governments to work with businesses to consider limiting the working-week to 48 hours by closing the current EU working directive opt-outs. The party says the new powers coming back to Holyrood after Brexit would allow such a cap to be introduced in Scotland. The impact of new technology and automation means the measure is realistic, Labour says, without hitting productivity.
But the proposal has met with opposition from business chiefs who branded it the “stuff of dreams” and warned the economy would suffer.
The industrial strategy was unveiled by Ms Dugdale along with Labour economy spokeswoman Jackie Baillie and shadow cabinet minister Richard Leonard on a visit to aerospace giant Leonardo in Edinburgh yesterday.
The strategy announcement follows figures this week that showed Scotland has escaped falling into recession with a jump in growth of 0.8 per cent in the last quarter.
Ms Dugdale said: “Decline and de-industrialisation is not inevitable. We need to inspire a new generation of world-leading scientists and innovators to give our country the skills we all need to succeed.
“The SNP government already has the powers to set Scotland on a different course to ensure we are at the cutting edge of the fourth industrial revolution.”
A revival in Scottish manufacturing is at the heart of the strategy with Ms Baillie claiming that the SNP has “no industrial strategy” to push Scotland forward.
Labour’s strategy backs a commitment to full employment with a focus on the industries and jobs of the future - including decommissioning and renewables, alongside the emerging financial technology (fintech) sector.
Public procurement rules would also freeze out companies and organisations that engage in blacklisting, operate zero-hours contracts, pay below living wage levels and other unfair employment practices.
A real living wage of £10 a hour and a ban on zero-hour contracts would be instigated. The Scottish Investment Bank would also be beefed up with £20 billion of lending power.
Ms Baillie added: “Following Brexit, a UK or Scottish Government could consider ending current opt-outs which fail to deliver on our ambition for an inclusive economy.
“This would potentially benefit thousands of workers across the country, in particular under-pressure NHS staff. We want to start a dialogue with business about the opportunities this would bring.”
But industry leaders warned that more rules and regulations could hit their ability to do business at a fragile time for Scotland’s economy.
Liz Cameron, chief executive of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said a new national industrial strategy is needed, but called for cross-party support for such an initiative and backed Labour’s push for increased productivity.
But she added; “Other parts of the proposals are less welcome, particularly around working hours, the Living Wage and procurement where many businesses need support, rather than sanctions, to enable growth and success.”
Colin Borland, head of devolved nations for the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), also gave the working week proposals the thumbs down.
“For lots of small business owners, of course, a 48-hour working week is the stuff of dreams. It is good to see political parties examining the best way to develop Scotland’s economy, but some of these measures inevitably raise questions about their practical application. We all want to get the right work-life balance, but policies aimed at limiting the number of hours junior doctors work shouldn’t prevent shop workers or bar staff picking up overtime in the run up to Christmas.”
David Watt, executive director of the Institute of Directors Scotland, warned that “too much government intervention” can have unintended consequences.
He said: “The IoD does not support worker exploitation but believes they should have the option to negotiate terms that suit both parties.”
But Scotland’s biggest trade union Unite backed the strategy’s consideration of forms of common ownership and commitment to full employment.
The union’s Scottish Secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We are particularly pleased that it proposes government intervention and investment, a change in procurement rules to outlaw blacklisting, zero-hour contracts and other forms of workplace exploitation, emphasises the need to rebuild our manufacturing base upon which the rest of the economy relies and seeks to shift the current agenda on automation and new technology away from one that is predicated on reducing jobs and labour costs to one which seeks to make work more productive, fulfilling and safe.”