LOW-PAID shift workers risk being attacked on their way home if plans to introduce a new tax on workplace parking spaces get the go-ahead, it has been claimed.

Helen Martin, assistant general secretary of the Scottish Trades Union Congress (STUC), said hospitality employees who finish their shifts late at night often can’t rely on public transport.

She said workers are already being assaulted as they walk home – and plans to introduce a new levy potentially put more people at risk.

Ms Martin was giving evidence to Holyrood’s rural economy and connectivity committee as it considers new legislation which would allow councils to bring in a workplace parking levy.

She said: “We’re running ‘safe home’ campaigns constantly with hospitality workers, because there is no public transport and they’re getting attacked on the way home because they can’t afford to take a taxi because their wages are so low.”

Asked if these workers currently take their cars to work, she said: “Some people do, some people don’t. The ones that don’t are getting attacked on the way home.

"So you are potentially putting more people into that category with this amendment, and that’s what we’re concerned about.”

She branded the levy a “small, limited proposal that is likely to place hardship on low paid workers in particular and is not likely to raise the sort of money that is needed to really invest and transform the public transport arrangements”.

Proposals for a workplace parking levy – which arose following an SNP-Green deal to pass the 2019/20 Scottish budget – would see councils empowered to charge employers for their parking spaces.

Nottingham, the only UK city to try such a scheme to date, charges firms with 11 or more parking bays £415 each per year. Half of all large employers have passed on the cost to staff.

Under the Scottish plans, hospitals and GP surgeries would be automatically exempt, but it would be left to individual councils to decide on any other exemptions.

Nicola Sturgeon has backed the plans as part of wider efforts to combat the “climate emergency”, but other SNP figures have raised concerns the tax would be “unfair”.

Speaking to MSPs, Ms Martin said there were fears many councils would choose to introduce the levy simply to raise much-needed funds.

She said: “Local authority budgets have been very, very stretched in recent years. Local authorities will raise the levy to replace money that is currently going into transport, so that they free up funds for other areas.

“I would imagine that there would be local authorities who are tempted to do that, because such is the stretch on local government finance that this is a way of simply funding essential services.

“I would have sympathy for a local authority who found themselves in that position, but I do think it’s potentially quite damaging for low-paid workers who are in that position and who are not seeing an improvement in their public transport as a result.”

She added: “It tends to be the lowest paid workers who aren’t exempted from the levy, because it will go into the package of a CEO that you get your parking space, it won’t go into the package of a cleaner that you get your parking space.

“So in some ways, the logic of the workplace is kind of backwards when it comes to defending low paid employees.”

Labour MSP Pauline McNeill highlighted figures from Transport Scotland showing 50 per cent of the country's lowest paid employees use their car to get to work – and warned an extra tax could lead to some losing their jobs.

She said: "A £400 a year charge is possibly going to actually lead to people losing their jobs because they can't afford to get to work."

However, Sue Flack, policy advisor at Transform Scotland, said the tax would be aimed at employers, and argued they could choose to charge lower paid workers less – or nothing at all.

She said: "There is scope to exempt different types of people. There's the scope to charge at different times.

"So if you are talking about shift workers there are ways of looking at how shift workers fit in, how part time workers fit in...

"It is down to the local authority to work with employers, to work out what are these sorts of issues.

"If there are issues there are ways within the legislation to resolve them or at least to mitigate them."

Elsewhere, Alistair Brown, national director of the Scottish Association of Social Work, said any further pressures on social workers, such as those arising from a new levy, risked being “the straw that broke the camel’s back”.

And Colin Smith, chief executive of the Scottish Wholesale Association, said 82 per cent of its members planned to pass the levy on to employees.

David Lonsdale, director of the Scottish Retail Consortium, said the tax would be an additional cost on businesses, adding: “This is a tough time for the industry, and it’s very difficult to absorb a lot of these costs.”

He said he found it “quite astonishing” that the levy is being proposed without any impact assessment.