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FROM tech to tourism, courier work to care, Scotland’s economy is reliant on industries where unions are traditionally less strong.
As new technologies disrupt traditional ways of working and the world of work continues to change in the wake of Covid-19, unions in Scotland are pioneering projects to support workers to organise in less unionised sectors of the Scottish economy.
Better Than Zero
Covid has been tough for precarious workers. A report published on Monday by the STUC demonstrates the impact of coronavirus on hospitality and creative workers.
Better Than Zero, the Scottish campaign against precarious work, has been supporting workers to protect each other with a comprehensive training strategy.
Workers at risk of being forced to sign new contracts, being laid off or made to work in unsafe conditions have been supported to come together in a WhatsApp group, decide on demands starting with small targets, and present them to the employer collectively.
Workers have had wins across the economy from cafes and cinemas to council venues and cocktail bars, and the networks they have formed are the seeds of new active branches in sectors with low trade union density. If you want to get involved, visit betterthanzero.scot.
The Scottish Tourism Workers League
Tourism workers have been badly affected by closures and redundancies, as visitor numbers drop and the lockdown prevents travel across the country.
A group of workers in touring, transport, hospitality and heritage group has joined with Better Than Zero to launch the Scottish Tourism Workers League. As well as supporting workers to challenge unfair measures from bosses, and to challenge the exploitative measures of absentee owners, the League is working with the Morning Star to expose companies and industry leaders that are scrabbling to get public money while making redundancies.
Jon Heggie, a former tour guide, said: “The government’s policy seems to be to throw money at owners and hope that some of it will trickle down to workers and local communities.
“We deserve better, so we are coming together across the industry and demanding, together, that we receive fair wages and conditions and that industry leaders are made accountable for the public money they’ve bagged.” Find out more at scottishtourismworkersleague.org.
Tech Workers Scotland
The tech sector is expanding fast in Scotland, particularly in Edinburgh.
Some of the many new jobs in the tech sector are unlike anything that has come before, but workers are organising for the same thing: fair treatment, clear policies, transparent and equal pay.
Prospect, the union, is supporting tech workers to organise: front-end developers who need flexibility for caring, data analysts who want job security, games workers who no longer want to “crunch” at the end of every project.
Mike Saunders, the organiser at Prospect who supports Tech Workers Scotland, says: “The workers of the industry are enthusiastic and compassionate; they just need a voice.
“Much of the culture of the industry is imported, including a lack of awareness of trade unions. Our work is changing that culture.
“There is a large national push towards jobs in tech, but we owe it to the next generation to make sure trade union membership is normalised and powerful.” See @ScoTechWork for more.
The Workers’ Observatory
There has been a massive expansion in gig work and platform work, especially among couriers and delivery riders, and also increasingly among care workers and in other sectors. One of the features of this kind of work is that the information that determines how wages and hours are allocated are concealed, which makes organising and bargaining very difficult.
In Edinburgh a group of gig workers, working with the STUC and researchers at the University of Edinburgh, has started to experiment with how workers can better observe their own conditions as a means of organising.
They have founded the Workers’ Observatory to monitor new forms of work in the city and develop tools and tactics to take advantage of them.
It will allow workers to carry out enquiries into way that wages, time and conditions are determined, as well as the effects on platform work of policy, platform-development, and indeed pandemics.
A courier involved in the project said: “The transient nature of much of the courier workforce is something which makes organising hard and maintaining this is quite a challenge.
“I am very excited about how couriers and other gig worker can share their experience of work, monitor their conditions, and take actions to improve their working lives – something that has not really happened in Edinburgh so far.’ More at workersobservatory.org.
Cailean Gallagher is Campaigns and Communications Officer with the STUC.
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