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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

October 2004


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 legal protection.

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group of emergency workers, coupled with the existing common law and statutory provisions, that the Bill should be withdrawn.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 circumstances.

Emergency Workers

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 memorandum.

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:

  • Healthcare: The current list restricts this category to those with a professional registration. There are many healthcare workers who are emergency workers who fall outwith this category. In addition the ‘assisting' provisions would not cover them. The main group would be nursing assistants but it could also include a range of ancillary staff including security and porters. Through ‘Joint Future' arrangements health and social care staff work in multi-disciplinary teams. These teams also include Professions Allied to Medicine who also work in A&E and other emergency settings.

  • 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 situations.

  • Utilities: In addition Scottish Water staff in the energy companies regularly respond to emergency situations. This is not limited to National Grid Transco and includes gas workers employed by other energy companies and electricity line and response staff.

  • Police: With the increasing civilianisation of the police force a range of police staffs other than constables could be involved in emergency situations. Similar provisions apply to community wardens who are usually employed by local authorities.

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".

Emergency Circumstances

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 prosecute.

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.

A&E Premises

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
UNISON Scotland,

14, West Campbell Street,

G2 6RX

Tel: 0141-332 0006

Fax: 0141 342 2835

Email: matt.smith@unison.co.uk



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