Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill
The UNISON Scotland Response to the Scottish
Parliament Justice 1 Committee's call for further evidence on
the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill
UNISON is Scotland's largest public sector trade
union representing over 150,000 members.
This paper constitutes UNISON Scotland's response
to the Scottish Parliament Justice 1 Committee's call for further
evidence on the Emergency Workers (Scotland) Bill at Stage 2
of the Bill's progress.
Stage 1 Report
UNISON Scotland welcomes the Justice 1 Committee's
report on this bill. It has identified many of the potential
difficulties with certain provisions and has aided understanding
of the complex legal issues.
In light of the Committee's report we have reviewed
our position on the Bill.
Case for the Bill
As the Committee's report correctly identifies
we would have wished to see legislation much wider in scope
than the Bill as drafted. We favoured a Bill covering public
service workers with similar scope to that set out in the Lord
Advocate's guidance. It remains our view that the Bill should
have given statutory effect to that guidance recognising that
workers providing a service to the public should be given specific
There is a view that as the Bill currently only
covers the more narrowly defined group of emergency workers,
coupled with the existing common law and statutory provisions,
that the Bill should be withdrawn. Whilst we recognise the disappointment
over the limited provisions in the Bill we share the Committee's
conclusion that it does provide some additional protections
and is capable of being improved at Stage 2.
The Law Society and Faculty of Advocates may well
be correct in their view that the common law and other statutory
provisions cover most of the Bill's provisions. However, we
take the view that their view fails to take account of the wider
public policy grounds for the Bill. In particular the need to
make an unambiguous legislative statement to deter assaults
on workers who are serving the public.
If the Bill is to make a worthwhile contribution
to the public policy objectives there are two main areas that
need to be strengthened. Extending the list of workers defined
as emergency workers and strengthening the definition of emergency
We note the committee's test for the inclusion
in the defined list as being "that their job must require
them to respond to emergency circumstances on a regular and
routine basis". The current list with its emphasis on ‘blue
light' services has the, we trust unintentional, consequences
of providing protection to predominantly male groups of workers.
This is an equal opportunities issue not identified in the policy
We would argue that this goes somewhat further
than required to remain within the ethos of the Bill as set
out in the introduction to the Bill as "persons who are
providing emergency services". There clearly has to be
an emergency element to the post, but not we would argue on
a "regular and routine" basis.
We would prefer additional groups to be identified
in the Bill rather than rely solely on adding groups by order
at a later stage. The key public policy objective is to deter
assaults. It is inevitable that claims to add groups of workers
would be in response to actual examples of assaults.
In the short time period since the Committee's
report we have identified the following groups that we believe
should be added to the list of emergency workers:
Social care: Many social care staff including
social workers regularly respond to emergency situations.
This is not limited to mental health and child protection
roles. Whilst this would primarily be in community settings
it could also include some residential settings handling
emergency admissions. Staff in home care alert teams regularly
attend emergencies, even if they might not be apparent until
they arrive at a client's premises. We should also not forget
that a range of health and social care staff in the voluntary
sector work in emergency situations.
Environmental: There are several groups
of environmental workers who work in emergency situations.
Some SEPA staff, port authorities, housing, environmental
health, pest control and roads. Even some Leisure services
staff including pool attendants regularly handle emergency
All of the above workers and others are, in the
Minister's justification for the definition, "out in the
community protecting life and limb. They are out there to protect
us and any hindrance to them puts other people's lives at risk".
We share many of the concerns expressed in evidence
to the committee and in the report over the complexity of the
definition of "emergency circumstances". As this is
a requirement to create an offence it is vital that it is not
drawn so tightly as to make an offence almost impossible to
We would suggest replacing the multiple tests
in the Bill to a simpler "in the performance of their duties".
This would be similar to the provisions in the Police (Scotland)
Act 1967 that appears to work satisfactorily with between 2000
and 3000 charges proved per annum.
We agree with many of the concerns expressed in
evidence over the definitions in s3 relating to A&E premises.
Part of the confusion may relate to the section heading that
refers to "workers in hospital accident and emergency premises"
and the apparently wider definition of those premises in s3(2).
These concerns would be largely obviated by our definition of
‘emergency circumstances'. Emergencies are not limited to acute
hospitals. For example, admission wards in mental health units
are the equivalent of A&E units in that discipline.
UNISON Scotland believes the proposed legislation
to be too narrow in focus and regrets that the Executive has
not seen fit to enact legislation that would offer all public
service workers the same level of legal protection.
However, we still believe that the Bill, if amended,
has merit in providing additional protection albeit to a more
limited group of workers than we would wish.
The necessary amendments should relate to a wider
group of emergency workers and a simpler definition of emergency
circumstances as set out above.
For Further Information Please Contact:
Matt Smith, Scottish Secretary
14, West Campbell Street,
Tel: 0141-332 0006
Fax: 0141 342 2835