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Stop violence against workers

1 November 2013

Labour has given its backing to a campaign to reduce violent incidents, threats and abuse targeted at public-facing workers.


A new criminal offence is being proposed which would carry a maximum sentence of 12 months imprisonment or a £10,000 fine and which could be tried alongside a charge of assault or threatening behaviour.

Emergency workers such as police, paramedics and fire fighters, already receive extra protection under the law and evidence suggests this has helped reduce the number of attacks against them.

However in October the government blocked a Labour amendment to the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill which would have introduced the new offence of assaulting a worker serving the public.

Only one Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP voted for the move, whilst 288 voted against. Hard-right Conservative MP David T C Davies was the one exception.

He told MPs that his service as a special constable with the British Transport police had shown him the law was needed, saying, “I meet many rail staff who are the victims of daily verbal and physical abuse”. Sadly, none of his colleagues agreed.

MPs will get a chance to reconsider after Labour MP Graeme Morrice introduced a standalone Protection of Workers Bill, which was laid before Parliament last month. The Bill is scheduled to get its second reading on 1 February next year with supporters asked to lobby their MPs ahead of the vote.

MPs can signal their support by signing Early Day Motion (EDM) 574 which calls on the Government to back the Protection of Workers Bill. The EDM, which is like a parliamentary petition, has already been signed by 89 MPs.

At the moment, under sentencing guidelines, assaulting a worker can be taken as an aggravating factor which can push towards a harsher sentence, but there are concerns this is not being applied across the board. Despite the growth of CCTV many incidents on the railways go unpunished.

After a long-term fall in incidents, concerning figures publicised by the shopworkers’ union USDAW, who have taken a leading role on this issue, have shown a recent surge in violence and verbal assaults against workers in the sector.

TSSA’s general secretary Manuel Cortes backed the campaign saying, “No one should face threats or violence when going about their work, yet we know this is a daily occurrence for many railway staff. Employers have their role to play, but this should be backed by a consistent approach by prosecutors, with strong penalties to act as a dieterrent to others.”7

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