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MSPs Briefing - Protection of Emergency Workers Debate

Introduction

On Thursday 15th January 2004 there will be an Executive Debate in the Scottish Parliament on Protection of Emergency Workers. UNISON Scotland welcomes this timely debate in the Scottish Parliament, particularly given the increased incidence of assaults and violence towards public sector workers and the recent publication of the Executive's proposals for protecting emergency workers.

This briefing covers this issue and related matters that may be raised during the debate.

Protecting Emergency Workers Scottish Executive proposals

UNISON Scotland welcomes the overall direction of the Executives proposals for protecting emergency workers. Much of what is contained in these proposals UNISON Scotland finds positive and is supportive of. We are pleased that the Executive has recognised the nature and the scale of the problem in relation to violence against workers in the public services and that it is intent on bringing forward legislation that will afford greater legal protection to public service workers. However, there are areas where we feel the Executive can strengthen the proposed legislation.

Which groups of emergency workers should be covered?

UNISON Scotland believes that attacks on any staff delivering public services should be treated under the law as serious assaults, not just attacks on emergency workers. The experiences of our membership and the results of recent crime surveys informs us that in practice the most vulnerable workers are not necessarily emergency service workers all workers who deal with the public are at risk. UNISON Scotland believes the proposed legislation to be too narrow in focus and urges the Executive to consider enacting legislation, which would offer all public service workers the same level of legal protection.

How to define an emergency situation?

UNISON Scotland believes that the emphasis of the new legislation should be on the activities the victim was conducting at the time of an assault, not on whether these activities where conducted during an emergency or non-emergency situation. We believe that the risks faced by public service workers in both emergency and non-emergency situations are fundamentally the same.

The need to introduce a statutory aggravation charge

UNISON Scotland is disappointed at the Executive's reluctance to introduce a statutory aggravation charge (replacing common law aggravation) to cover attacks on all workers delivering a public service. We do not agree with the Executive's assertion that the introduction of a statutory aggravation offence to cover attacks on public service workers would weaken protection for such workers.

Wider measures

UNISON Scotland believes that public service trade unions will have a clear role to play in ensuring the success of any campaign to educate service users on a zero tolerance of violence at work. We believe that the key priorities for any future campaign can best be identified through dialogue with all the key stakeholders including trade unions. It is also our view that public bodies need to take assaults on staff more seriously and put in place effective measures to protect staff.

Conclusion

As stated, UNISON Scotland is supportive of much of the Executive's proposals to afford greater legal protection to emergency workers. However, there are areas where we feel the Executive can strengthen the proposed legislation, the most important being that attacks on any staff delivering public services should be treated under the law as serious assaults, not just attacks on emergency workers.

 

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Further Information

Contacts list:

Dave Watson
d.watson@unison.co.uk

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