UNISON – Rise in attacks on public service staff is ‘tip of the iceberg’

Public services union UNISON Scotland has called on the Scottish Government and all public service employers to take action immediately in order to tackle the “massive scale of the problem of violence against public sector workers”.

UNISON’s annual Violence at Work survey published today (Friday 20 October) reveals a further increase in reported assaults on public service workers – but the union warned that this could just be the ‘tip of the iceberg’.

The survey returns for 2017 indicate there were 42,421 assaults in total reported in the most recent year – an increase of 1,255 compared with the overall figure of 41,166 in the 2016 survey.

Local Government assaults have risen to 22,006 in the 2017 survey – an increase of 4,401 over the previous total 17,605.

In Health Boards there has been an increase of 2,054 from 17,116 in 2016 to 19,170 in the 2017 survey.

Scott Donohoe, UNISON Health and Safety committee chair, told the conference:
“Violent attacks on public service staff have more than doubled in the last decade – but the numbers keep on rising – and we have real concerns that this figure of 42,421 is just the tip of the iceberg.

“There are still public sector employers for which low figures and poor information on the issue suggests we still face a good deal of under-reporting. Whether reported or not, every assault on a worker serving the public is an assault too many. But if we do not have accurate and reliable systems for reporting all violence against public sector workers, truly effective measures to overcome and eliminate the problem will be impossible to achieve.”

“The massive scale of the problem of violence against public sector workers – including those in the community and voluntary sector – has slowly begun to emerge over the last decade. It is now time for action by employers and stronger legislation, regulation and oversight by government to end the epidemic.”

Dave Watson, UNISON Scotland head of policy and public affairs said:
“The underlying causes of this rise may be partly to do with increased awareness as a result of our campaigns around the issue of violence at work, and partly to do with improvements in reporting systems and processes by employers. However it may also worryingly be due to a real increase in the levels of violence against public service workers. Any attack is one attack too many – we need now as a society to act urgently in order to eliminate the problem of violence against workers altogether.

“UNISON Scotland supports the extension of legislation covering violence at work to cover all workers engaged in delivering public services – and not just the emergency services. We call on the Scottish Government to move urgently to address this issue.

“UNISON Scotland calls for all employers engaged in delivering public services – whether in local government, health or any of the other services and importantly the community and voluntary sector – to put the guidelines produced in 2010 by the Scottish Centre for Health Working Lives fully into practice, in order that we can make the level of violent assaults fall across Scotland.”


The Violence at Work Survey 2017 is available to download on the UNISON Scotland website Health and Safety page

and at this link

For further information please contact:
Dave Watson, UNISON’s head of policy and public affairs, on 07958 122 409
Scott Donohoe, chair UNISON health and safety committee, 07866 952765

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