Maggie Chapman, a Scottish Greens MSP, has been working with Unite Hospitality to introduce a Bill in the Scottish Parliament. This Bill, if passed, would oblige employers to arrange free safe journeys home for staff who work late shifts.
To whom would the obligation apply?
In 2021, Unite launched its “Get Me Home Safely” campaign after a hospitality worker was assaulted on her way home from work after midnight. This campaign calls on employers, local authorities and governments to engage with the union to develop solutions to ensure that those who work late are able to travel home from work safely. If the Bill is passed, it would implement one of the campaign’s objectives and oblige employers to ensure safe and free travel home from work for all staff who work past 11pm, irrespective of gender.
The Bill as drafted focuses on the hospitality sector in settings such as bars, hotels, clubs and restaurants. However, some certainly want to see it extended to other industries and sectors which work late, such as the NHS and social care. The Bill would only apply in Scotland.
If the Bill becomes law, what are the potential challenges for employers?
The requirement would raise questions about the standards employers must meet to satisfy their duty to provide “safe transport home”. Safety is, to an extent, a subjective term that encompasses physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. What mode of transport is the safest? Would some employees feel safer being on a bus full of people than being in a taxi alone? Does the area in which an employee works or lives influence what sort of transport would be safe? Will there be a national minimum standard?
Employers already have a duty of care to safeguard their workforce’s health and wellbeing. A new requirement to include a “safe transport home” obligation would extend their duty of care responsibilities by adding a potentially costly new duty. This may be particularly burdensome at a time when many parts of the hospitality sector are still struggling to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The cost-of-living crisis is exacerbating this problem due to reduced footfall. Would it be fair for employers who employ workers living far from their place of work to pay higher travel costs than other employers who have workers living more locally? Might this lead to employers narrowing recruitment to employees from certain postcodes? Is it up to employers to protect staff during their commute home from work when this does not count as their working time or is this a wider social issue?
Employers may argue that, instead of being made to pay for their employees’ safe travel home, government and local authorities should do more to tackle the root of the problem.
The next steps
The Bill is currently in its draft stages and has not yet been finalised or presented to the Scottish Parliament. The next stage is to lodge a draft proposal and begin a 12-week consultation before Christmas. The proposal would then go to the Scottish Parliament in spring, where it would be considered by MSPs in the Business and Fair Work Committee.
Whilst employers do not need to implement any immediate changes, it is useful to consider the importance of worker safety and keep track of the Bill’s progress. To date, the “Get Me Home Safely” campaign has won backing from both Glasgow City Council and the City of Edinburgh Council. In addition East Dunbartonshire Licensing Board has already made safe transport home a requirement of licensed venues wishing to apply for a new or 1am licence.
If you have any questions about how to improve the safety of your workforce, please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of our team.