The Scottish Parliament Justice 1 Committee's call for evidence
on Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill
The UNISON Scotland Response. May 2004
UNISON Scotland is pleased to be able to respond to the Justice
1 Committee's call for evidence on the Emergency Workers (Scotland)
It is the view of UNISON Scotland that violence
and the threat of violence at work is entirely unacceptable. As
such we warmly welcome the commitment of Scottish Ministers to
take action in this area by introducing both legislative and non-legislative
measures to protect workers.
However, we believe that the Bill in its current
form has too narrow a focus. UNISON Scotland regrets that the
Executive has not seen fit to enact legislation which would offer
all public service workers, not only those whom it considers emergency
workers, the same level of legal protection.
UNISON Scotland believes that an attack on any
member of staff who delivers a public service should be treated
under the law as a serious assault, not just attacks on emergency
UNISON Scotland believes that the risks faced
by public service workers in both emergency and non-emergency
situations are fundamentally the same. We believe that any attempt
to make a distinction between assaulting a public service worker
in an emergency situation and assaulting one in a non-emergency
situation to be illusory.
In addition, UNISON Scotland is disappointed
at the Executive's failure to introduce a statutory aggravation
charge (replacing common law aggravation) to cover attacks on
all workers delivering a public service.
UNISON is Scotland's largest public sector trade union representing
150,000 members. Across Scotland UNISON members save lives, build
communities, support families, protect vulnerable people, care
for children and much more.
Increasingly this essential work is being done in the face of
a threat - the threat of violent attacks. UNISON Scotland takes
the view that this type of behaviour is unacceptable in any context,
but it is particularly unacceptable that valued public services
workers should have to face this threat in the course of their
Therefore, as users of public services, as public service workers
and as ordinary citizens our membership has a direct interest
in commenting on and helping to shape legislation, which is designed
to protect emergency and public service workers in Scotland from
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the Scottish Parliament Justice 1 Committee's call for evidence
on the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill.
Workers covered by the Bill
UNISON Scotland welcomes the Scottish Executive's commitment
to tackle the issue of violence against emergency workers through
legislation and the acknowledgement of the need to extend protection
to others assisting them in emergency situations.
However, UNISON Scotland also believes the proposed legislation
to be too narrow in focus and regrets that the Executive has not
seen fit to enact legislation which would offer all public service
workers the same level of legal protection, not only those whom
the Executive considers emergency workers.
UNISON Scotland is concerned that the proposed legislation will
fail to provide adequate legal protection for all public service
workers and that it will instead create unequal levels of legal
protection for emergency workers and important non-emergency public
service workers alike.
We believe that in practice it is impossible to make a distinction
between the risks faced by an emergency worker (as defined by
the Bill) and a non-emergency worker such as a social worker or
a home care worker.
UNISON Scotland believes that an attack on any member of staff
who delivers a public service should be treated under the law
as a serious assault, not just attacks on emergency workers.
Defining 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 were conducted
during an emergency or non-emergency situation.
UNISON members, who are employed throughout Scotland's public
services, can testify that threats, abuse, assault and fear of
such incidents have become a permanent and regular feature of
their working lives.
We are of the opinion that the risks faced by public service
workers in both emergency and non-emergency situations are fundamentally
the same. We believe that any attempt to make a distinction between
assaulting a public service worker in an emergency situation and
assaulting one in a non-emergency situation to be illusory.
In addition, the proposed Bill makes special provision for health
workers in hospital A&E departments. This provision stipulates
that a state of emergency is to be considered to exist at all
times in such departments.
The experience on the ground in many of our hospitals is that
patients are regularly admitted directly to a ward, by-passing
A&E altogether. In this situation, a patients first point
of contact with hospital staff is at the ward level, not at A&E
level, yet under the proposed Bill the hospital ward would not
be considered an emergency location and would not be subject to
the same provisions under law.
UNISON Scotland believes this to be nonsensical and believes
that within our hospitals there should be no artificial division
drawn between A&E departments and the rest of the hospital.
UNISON Scotland is disappointed at the Executive's failure 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.
We believe the Executives fears over the potential loss of flexibility
and the possibility of aggravated charges not being proceeded
with under statute because they do not fit a restrictive statutory
template, to be ill-founded.
It is the opinion of UNISON Scotland that the dropping of a statutory
aggravation charge may actually be less of a risk in the proposed
new offence. This is because the aggravating factor for assault
on a public service worker is factual i.e. the identity of the
victim and the capacity in which they were working at the time.
The offence could also be made one of strict liability and thus
arguably easier to prove.
UNISON Scotland believes that whilst tougher
sentencing will provide a useful disincentive, more proactive
measures to reduce risk and prevent harm are similarly important
in maximising protection for workers.
As such, UNISON Scotland welcomes the Executive's
commitment to introduce a wider package of non-legislative measures
designed to protect those who serve the public. We are pleased
that these measures will include initiatives to educate the public
and to reinforce the message that attacks on public service and
other workers are totally unacceptable.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Glasgow G2 6RX
Tel 0141-332 0006 Fax 0141 342 2835
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