Tough new Dundee City Council smoking policy ‘tantamount to bullying’

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A new policy that bans council workers from smoking during working hours has been branded “tantamount to bullying”.

Trade unions have also hit out at the Dundee City Council rules, which will mean workers are not allowed to smoke or vape on tea breaks, while travelling between offices or when outside, even if they are not identifiable as council staff.

Anyone caught flouting the new rules could face disciplinary action.

The only time staff will be allowed to smoke will be on unpaid lunch breaks.

Simon Clark, director of the smokers’ group Forest, said: “Threatening employees with disciplinary action if they smoke during work breaks or while they’re working out of doors, out of uniform and between locations is tantamount to bullying.

“A ban on vaping makes even less sense. Switching to e-cigarettes has helped a significant number of smokers in their efforts to quit.

“If there is a genuine desire to help employees stop smoking, smokers should be encouraged to vape, not threatened with the same penalties as those caught smoking.”

He added: “Smoking or vaping, the council is over-reaching its powers. Policing our lifestyle, as long as it doesn’t have a direct impact on our work or colleagues, is not the business of local government.”

George Barr, convener of the Unite trade union in Dundee, said: “The council should be helping people to give up if it wants to enforce this policy, especially if people could potentially be sacked for smoking.

“This is an attack on people who smoke. It’s not an easy thing to give up – and not everyone wants to either.”

The Dundee branch of the GMB union added: “We will vigorously defend any members who fall foul of this.

“Members should be able to choose what they do in their own time without fear of reprimand.”

Dundee City Council said it had consulted unions before the new policy was adopted.

A spokesman said: “The council will assist any employees who want to try to give up smoking.

“There was detailed discussion with trade unions during the formation of the new policy and employees will be able to ask their line managers about the implications for them at the start of this early implementation stage.”

Workers say they doubt whether the policy will be enforceable and claimed it is hypocritical that the council’s pensions fund invests in tobacco companies.

One said: “I think this is going to affect a lot of people. I can see why the council is doing it but I don’t think they’re doing it in the right way. I smoke about 20-a-day.

“When I first heard about the policy I thought about buying a vape but they’re banning those too.

“A lot of the older people are worried they’ll lose their jobs if they get caught, and they’ll lose their pensions – pensions that are in tobacco. It’s ludicrous.”

Dundee, together with Angus and Perth and Kinross Councils, invests £56.3 million of pension money in tobacco firms through the Tayside Pension Fund.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said it encourages councils to “make their grounds smoke-free”.

A spokesman for local government umbrella organisation COSLA said: “Increasingly it is becoming the norm for local authorities and other public bodies to operate a smoke-free policy across their property.

“It is ultimately for each council to decide how they apply such policies but COSLA supports all efforts to reduce rates of smoking as part of a wide range of public health measures for our staff.

“Councils play a vital role in improving public health outcomes for our communities and this often begins with our own staff policies and our own premises. Internationally, some organisations have gone even further such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) who do not employ staff who use any tobacco product.”

A Perth and Kinross Council spokesperson said: “Perth & Kinross Council is committed to minimising the risk to employees’ health as far as is reasonably practical.

“However, the Council recognises the rights of individuals who choose to smoke and will endeavour to provide suitable facilities for those who choose to smoke at work.

“Personal breaks, normally one mid-morning and one mid-afternoon, may be used for any reasonable purpose such as tea breaks or smoking breaks. Smoking is not permitted on workplace premises including Council-owned vehicles; smoking breaks must be taken in clearly designated areas.”