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January 4, 2011

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Scottish Parliament blocks assaults bill

The union for shop workers says its members in Scotland have been left in the lurch by MSPs after a bill to protect them, and other public-facing staff, from violence and abuse was voted down in late December.
 
The Bill, which was introduced by Labour MSP Hugh Henry, sought to create a new offence of assault against a worker whose employment involves dealing with members of the public to any extent. The offence would have covered assaults while such workers are acting in the course of their work, and assaults that take place at other times but which relate to their work.
 
As SHP has previously reported, the Bill failed to convince the Economy, Energy and Tourism Committee (EET), which concluded that it would not provide any more safeguards for individuals against assault than those currently available under common law.
 
Debating the Bill at stage one on 22 December, many MSPs shared the Committee’s concern and voted by a margin of 75 for to 42 against allowing the Bill to progress to the next stage.
 
During the parliamentary debate, Labour MSP Richard Baker lamented the Scottish Government’s failure to support the Bill at a time when it had “placed additional burdens on staff in their dealings with the public”.
 
Commenting on the Scottish Government’s zeal for a tougher stance on alcohol abuse, he said: “Quite rightly, we have tougher licensing laws and challenge-25 schemes to prevent alcohol from being sold to people who are under-age but, . . . that is likely to result in more aggrieved customers and more intimidating situations for staff, who already have to deal with such situations. It is not enough to say that that can simply be dealt with by the common law.”
 
Following the Bill’s failure, the general secretary of shop workers’ union, Usdaw, John Hannett, echoed Mr Baker’s views, saying: “Scotland’s shop workers have been very badly let down by the SNP. They legislated to put shop workers on the front line of preventing under-age sales, yet have now blocked any further discussion about protecting those same shop workers from the violence and abuse they face when doing their jobs.
 
“Scotland’s shop workers needed action from the SNP Government and instead all they received were warm words and sympathy. That isn’t going to stop or deter the thug that attacks one of our members for refusing to sell them alcohol late [at night].”
 
However, during the debate, Community Safety minister Fergus Ewing restated the Government’s sentiment that the Bill would do little more than replicate the existing law. He added: “It does not protect a shop worker against someone who is out of his mind on drink or drugs and is intent on committing an assault. Such a person certainly does not stop and say: ‘Oh dear, there is a protection of workers act; I had better stop right now.’”
 
Meanwhile, Scotland’s biggest health board, NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC), says it has become the first health authority in the country to launch a zero-tolerance policy on stalking.
 
The policy, which has been developed by a working group comprising Strathclyde Police Domestic Abuse Task Force and Action Scotland Against Stalking, follows a number of incidents involving unwanted and intrusive contact with members of staff. Cases included individuals being followed, secretly photographed, or enduring physical damage against their property.
 
The policy outlines a list of behaviours that could come under the definition of stalking, ranging from unwanted physical or sexual harassment and property damage to less obvious forms of stalking, such as rumour campaigns and the manipulation of others against a particular individual.
 
The policy also outlines measures to support staff victims of stalking, particularly if they are lone workers. Such interventions include mentoring, line-manager training, ‘buddying-up’ systems, and GPS tracking technology.
 
NHSGGC head of health and safety, Kenneth Fleming, explained: “This new policy will raise awareness of the issue among staff, managers and human-resources personnel, and provides guidance and a framework for recognising stalking, supporting staff affected, and provides managers with the know-how to safely manage any incidents affecting their staff.”

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