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Date: Thu 8 Oct 2009

UNISON calls for action to reduce violent assaults on staff at work

UNISON Scotland today called for decisive action from public sector employers and the Scottish Parliament to reduce violent assaults on members in the course of their work.

A UNISON report on ‘Violent Assaults on Public Service Staff in Scotland’, which will be presented to the union’s annual Health and Safety conference in Stirling tomorrow, has found that more than 25,000 assaults on staff were recorded for the year 2008/09.

The figures were obtained through Freedom of Information requests from employers of UNISON members. Although the total is down on the previous year, UNISON is concerned that the overall number of assaults on staff remains stubbornly high, and completely unacceptable.

In particular, the total for local government has increased, although in health and other sectors, some reductions have been recorded.

Dave Watson, UNISON Scottish Organiser said: “A reduction in the headline figure on violence against staff is welcome – but any act of violence on a member of staff going about their business of providing vital public services is completely unacceptable. To have over 25,000 in a year is shocking. And we are concerned at the continuing increased level of attacks on local government workers.

“It is clear that where rigorous monitoring and active preventative measures are in place, this has resulted in improvements for the health and safety of our members. But some employers are clearly failing to monitor violent assaults effectively, and as a result are failing to do enough to protect their staff.”

The Centre for Healthy Working Lives has established a Task Group to develop best practice guidelines for reporting of assault statistics for local government. The group, including representatives from CoSLA, some individual local authorities, STUC and UNISON Scotland, expects to report soon.

UNISON’s local government branches and safety representatives will then seek negotiations in each authority on how the proposals are to be implemented.

UNISON Scotland is also campaigning for further legislation to protect public service workers from violent assault. Dave Watson said: “We campaigned successfully for extensions to the provisions of the Emergency Workers Act 2006, which resulted in community health and mental health nurses being included. But more needs to be done. We want a broadening of the scope of the law to include other public facing staff, such as social workers, housing staff and traffic wardens.

“UNISON Scotland will be working with Hugh Henry MSP, whose proposed Proposed Workers (Aggravated Offences)(Scotland) Bill was published in June. The Bill aims to build on the Emergency Workers Act but to widen it to more public sector workers and to include private sector workers who provide a service to the public, such as shop workers.“


Notes to editors:
1. The UNISON Scotland report ‘Violent Assaults on Public Service Staff in Scotland’ is based on a Freedom of Information survey of 27 local authorities and 10 health boards in Scotland, and other public sector areas in which UNISON organises, including police, universities and colleges, NDPBs. The total number of assaults recorded over the year was 25,046, a drop of 7,221 over the previous year’s total of 32,267. If the figures for health and local government are taken into account, then assaults have decreased by 2,560 from 26,814 to 23,164 over the year.

The largest single decrease is however, in Strathclyde Police where their numbers of assaults have fallen from 4,547 to 921, the majority of these to police officers. The report will be presented at UNISON Scotland’s annual Health and Safety Conference in Stirling tomorrow, Friday 9 October 2009.

2. Proposed Workers (Aggravated Offences) (Scotland) Bill In June, 2009, Hugh Henry, MSP published a Public Consultation on his proposed Private Members Bill, Workers (Aggravated Offences) (Scotland) Bill http://www.scottish.parliament.uk/s3/bills/MembersBills/documents/20090713 FinalConsultationdocument revised.pdf to which UNISON made a response at the end of September 2009 http://www.unison-scotland.org.uk/response/WorkersAggravatedOffencesScotlandBillOc.pdf

See also UNISONScotand's Violent Assaults on Public Service Staff in Scotland Follow up Survey 2009 (pdf)

For further information please contact: Dave Watson, Scottish Organiser 07958 122 409 (m) Diane Anderson, Information Development Officer, 0141 342 2842