UNIONS have called for greater protection for Leeds’s frontline council workers and teachers after new figures revealed they were assaulted at work almost 5,500 times over the last three years.
Karen Loughlin, Unison’s regional organiser said the scale of attacks on local authority staff was a direct result of the “chronic underfunding” of the public sector, which has led to “high levels of frustration” being taken out on staff who are simply doing their jobs.
The figures, released from Leeds City Council to the YEP under the Freedom of Information Act, show 2,251 verbal and physical attacks on staff in 2016; 2,149 in 2017; and 1,089 this year - although the true figure will be higher as the data for different types of council staff finished in March and September.
Of all the Leeds incidents, more than 70 per cent took place in the city’s schools.
The incidents included social care staff being hit or cut by service users; environment officers being pushed and scratched by members of the public; library staff being verbally abused; a housing officer being bitten by a dog, and fractures, concussions, bites, sprains and dislocated bones suffered by school staff.
Ms Loughlin said the number of attacks was “frightening” and called on councils to provide greater violence prevention training for staff.
The GMB union’s political officer in Yorkshire, Steve Jennings, said public sector staff and teachers should be given similar protections to emergency workers that were granted earlier this year. “A level of harassment is becoming run of the mill and is not being reported,” he said.
The LEADING education union in Leeds said there were a “surprisingly high” number of assaults reported in primary school - and linked them to social and economic deprivation.
Leeds branch secretary of the National Education Union (NEU), Terry Bambrook, praised Leeds City Council for “doing its best” to support childrens’ service, but said that Government cuts have meant smaller budgets in real terms for schools, and often it had been support staff roles which have been removed to save on costs, with the loss of specialist roles such as behaviour management specialists.
The NEU meets regularly with the council’s Health and Safety Team, which Mr Bambrook said took accidents and assaults “very seriously” supporting schools and families where a high incidence of assaults is occurring
However, the true scale of attacks on school staff would be much higher than the 3,908 reported by the council, as they do not include figures for academies, who are not required by law to record incidents.
Mr Bambrook added: “Any and all attacks on staff are a concern. All staff have an expectation and a right to be able to attend their workplace and feel physically and psychologically safe. Education has now edged to pole position as the work sector with the highest prevalence of stress in the workplace. This is certainly compounded by not only physical assaults but also by verbal assaults and other poor behaviour from students.”
The council’s deputy leader, Coun James Lewis, said the number of assaults on staff had begun to decline. It runs practical training for school staff promoting “de-escalation strategies” and assaults on school staff had plateaued over the past three years.
He added: “In other areas of the council, changes in practice, improvements in training and awareness for staff along with a proactive approach to looking at new technology to further protect our staff - such as body cameras for enforcement officers - have all helped in reducing the number of assaults and we are committed to continuing work with trade unions to further improve employee health, safety and wellbeing.”
Wakefield Council recorded 422 ‘violent incidents’ between April 2016 and March this year.
Gillian Connolly, the council’s corporate director of business change, said the safety of staff is a “top priority”.
“Where relevant employees are given alarms which allow them to arrive and leave work safely and send an SOS should they need immediate help,” she said. “In other cases we use a system whereby the member of staff checks in at agreed times.”
Affected staff are supported with stress management and counselling.