MINISTERS are facing calls to widen plans for “restitution orders” for people who assault police officers to include all emergency workers.
Justice secretary Kenny MacAskill has said offenders should be made to pay into charities that help injured officers get back to work.
However, the proposals are limited to police and do not cover paramedics, nurses, firefighters and others who are injured in the line of duty.
The Royal College of Nurses has called for restitution orders to be widened to cover their members, while the Fire Brigades Union has urged ministers to do more to stop the attacks happening in the first place.
Ellen Hudson, associate director of the Royal College of Nursing Scotland, said: “If restitution orders are to be introduced for one section of the public sector workforce who may be subject to violence in the workplace, it seems only fair that they should be introduced for the rest of the public sector, including nurses and healthcare assistants.”
The FBU said firefighters see physical and verbal abuse as almost “part and parcel” of their job and rarely report it.
John Duffy, Scottish secretary of the FBU, said: “We do have the Emergency Workers Act, which is an extremely useful piece of legislation, but grossly under-used.
“We get verbal and physical abuse, things thrown at us. But rather than go to court we would rather reduce the number of offences happening in the first place.
“It’s got to be about how we engage in the communities we work in. If you get to the point where you have to punish people in court, it’s effectively too late.”
John Gallacher, Unison’s Scottish organiser, speaking on behalf of paramedics, agreed.
“Each year, there are an appalling number of violent incidents perpetrated on staff who are simply doing their job,” he said. “There is often a level of complacency over violence in the workplace, so the focus has to be on putting measures in place to prevent these attacks in the first place.”
The Scottish Government is introducing restitution orders for police first, partly because assault of an officer is already an offence under the Police (Scotland) Act 1967. It will look at options to widen the powers in a consultation on proposals for a victims’ surcharge. According to government figures, there were 4,890 convictions on charges of assaulting a police officer between January 2010 and February 2012.
Under the new plans, sheriffs will have the choice of fining offenders, in which case the money will go to HM Treasury, or imposing a restitution order, where instead the funds would go to police charities, such as the Police Benevolent Fund and the Castlebrae treatment centre in Auchterarder.
Mr MacAskill said: “Criminals should be made to pay for their crimes and it’s only right that victims should benefit.”
He added: “We’ll be more than happy to look at other areas, but we do have a specific offence here. We do have police officers who face dangers that none of the rest of us in our course of duties have to put up with.”