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Revitalise Principles and Briefings
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Revitalise Scotland's public services
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Principles Index . Briefings Home . Revitalise Our Services Index

PrinciplesPrinciples to Revitalise Scotland's Public Services

Quality employment - Recruitment & retention

Quality employment

In April 2003 UNISON Scotland launched its manifesto for Scotland's public services, Revitalise our Public Services. The centrepiece of that manifesto was our principles for public service renewal. In this series of briefings we expand on these principles setting out our positive agenda for the revitalisation of Scotland's essential public services.

What is Quality Employment?

There is a vital link between the quality of service and the quality of employment. PSO's should develop employment policies that ensure the recruitment and retention of high quality staff.

Where are there specific recruitment and retention difficulties?

It is widely acknowledged that recruitment and retention difficulties are significant barriers to achieving the Scottish Executive's commitment to improve public service delivery.

In health:

n The issues surrounding nurse recruitment and retention are well-known. In response the Executive and NHS Scotland have issued Working for Health, a detailed action plan to tackle workforce issues in the NHS, which UNISON welcomes.

n Audit Scotland's Performance Audit of Hospital Cleanliness, published in January 2003, states that ‘rates of staff turnover and sickness absence continue to be a problem in many hospitals. Almost half reported difficulties attracting and retaining staff'.

In local government

n Audit Scotland's overview of Trading Standards Services, published in October 2002, states that ‘a quarter [of councils] do not have an adequate number of appropriately skilled staff to undertake investigations of offences.'

n In social work CoSLA has set up a working group to review the recruitment and retention of social workers because of overwhelming local experience and anecdotal evidence reinforcing the perception that there is a ‘crisis in social work'. UNISON believes that there should be a fundamental review of workforce issues in social work, like that being undertaken for nurses and midwives in the NHS, to address issues like pay, training, workforce planning, flexible routes to qualification and the more effective use of non-qualified staff.

How to tackle recruitment and retention issues

UNISON advocates the recruitment and retention of high quality staff through; fair pay and conditions, genuine partnership working with trade unions, equal opportunities and life-long learning.

Fair pay and conditions

In a recent opinion poll conducted for UNISON, nearly 90% of respondents agreed that public services cannot be delivered successfully unless the people providing them are paid a fair wage and are treated fairly. No amount of job satisfaction is enough to keep someone in a public sector job where there are other (often private sector) local employers paying more. In addition, pay differentials between local public sector employers who employ the same type of staff need to be addressed. The Audit Scotland Report on Hospital Cleanliness referred to instances where hospitals reported losing ancillary staff to local authorities because they paid more. The recent deal to increase the minimum wage in NHS Scotland to £5.18 per hour is a welcome example of how to start tackling pay inequalities in the public sector. This now needs to be built on across the public services, particularly in the light of cross-service working initiatives such as Joint Future.

We have to reward all members of the public service team, including support staff, appropriately. Too often, the media and politicians focus on professional staff, like teachers and nurses, and forget that they are part of a team that provides the service. For example, teachers are not the only staff involved in education. A whole range of staff from cleaners, janitors, caterers and secretaries to support and ancillary staff ensure that the educational experience is of the highest quality. Support staff in all parts of the public sector tend to be the lowest paid and least valued, and many of them are women.

Partnership working with Trade Unions

The Scottish Executive and the trade unions have worked hard to forge a constructive working relationship over the first four years of the Scottish Parliament. The Concordat with the STUC and the PPP Protocol, which goes some way to removing the two-tier workforce in public services, are examples of good partnership working. UNISON is optimistic that this trend will continue, given the restatement of the commitment to work in partnership with trade unions in the Partnership Agreement. This spirit of partnership and inclusion must now be followed through to the local decision-making processes.

Equal Opportunities

Family-friendly employment practices and promoting work-life balance will help retain staff in the public sector, ensuring that their skills and experience are not lost when their life circumstances change. UNISON welcomes the commitment in the Partnership Agreement to develop more flexible working patterns in the NHS and empower front-line staff.

In addition, more urgent work needs to be done to address equal pay issues in the public sector. Thirty years after the Equal Pay Act, it is not acceptable that women only earn 81p to every male £1 earned for full-time work. UNISON welcomes the Scottish Executive's drive to have equal pay audits in all NDPBs but there are still serious issues regarding equal pay in the major public sector employers. We are pressing for pay audits and equality-proofed job evaluation schemes as a more constructive and less expensive way to address pay inequalities rather then pursuing legal equal pay claims. However, if we believe progress is not being made fast enough we will continue to use the Employment Tribunal system.

Lifelong learning

UNISON welcomes the awards of trade union learning funds to encourage the take-up of lifelong learning in the public sector and industries, and the Executive's commitment to continue working with trade unions on lifelong learning in the Partnership Agreement. However, there is still much to be done both in ensuring that those who need such opportunities get them and that there are trainers and institutions available to provide the necessary resources. Education and training should be available to staff at all levels across the public sector to equip them to move into higher skilled jobs within public services. New learning opportunities should be targeted to areas with poor records of employment and social inclusion.

Quality employment and training standards rooted in a public service ethos will assist in ensuring a more committed workforce providing a consistent and high quality service.


Dave Watson -

@ The P&I Team
14 West Campbell St
Glasgow G26RX
Tel 0845 355 0845
Fax 0141-307 2572






UNISONScotland 2003
Published by UNISONScotland,
UNISON House, 14 West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX. Tel 0141 332 0006