Hundreds of call handlers at Police Scotland could be forced to quit over cuts to pay and changes to working conditions, Willie Rennie has warned.
The Scottish Liberal Democrat leader said salary reductions have damaged staff morale as he urged ministers to take action to address staff concerns.
Police Scotland has stated that a restructuring of terms and conditions was necessary following the centralisation of the force in 2013 in order to address historical anomalies and inequalities.
A freedom of information request by Mr Rennie’s party indicated that more than 120 staff at Police Scotland have had their pay cut, with some facing reductions of up to £6,400 as a result of changes to back and night shift allowances.
In September, an agreement was reached between the Scottish Government, Police Scotland and the Scottish Police Authority (SPA) which guaranteed officers an immediate 6.5% pay increase.
The deal also sought to address the issues of inequality and anomalies in relation to pay progression, with the new pay deal for Police Scotland staff coming into effect on April 1.
Mr Rennie said: “Police call centre workers in Govan, Bilston and Motherwell are facing pay cuts and unreasonable changes to their conditions. No wonder absences are so high and morale so low.
“There have already been a number of high-profile incidents relating to emergency call handling in recent years. Experienced call handlers are essential but there is a risk that they will stream for the exits.
“The fatal accident inquiry into the 2015 M9 crash, which was handled by Bilston Glen, still hasn’t been conducted. It may be that the failure then to retain experienced call handlers is one of the lessons to be learned.
“I’ve challenged the First Minister and the Justice Secretary to step in and support this service. They’re sleepwalking towards another blunder. Ministers need to take a long hard look at the past and reverse these cuts.”
John Yuill, 28, and partner Lamara Bell, 25, died in a crash on the M9 in July 2015 which was reported to police at the time by a member of the public but no action was taken.
The pair were only discovered in the car three days later after police received a further call to the scene.
Jude Helliker, Police Scotland, explained that a project focused on a restructuring of terms and conditions was required after the merger of eight regional forces to form the force and outlined that a majority of staff would be receiving an uplift in pay.
Ms Helliker said:”Staff Pay and Reward Modernisation will ensure our staff, who are our most important asset, enjoy common terms and conditions of employment.
“The proposals have been subject to negotiation with our trades union colleagues and have received endorsement through collective agreement.
“The new pay and grading system, along with new terms and conditions of employment, removes inequalities and anomalies in pay and conditions inherited from predecessor forces.
“The agreed package represents a significant investment in the region of £23m, with over 70% of staff receiving an increase in basic salary and/or shift reward.
“For those whose salary is to be reduced, the agreed employment package offers a two-year period of protection of pay and allowances.
“An independent appeals process is open for staff to appeal against the outcome of the evaluation of their role.”
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “The modernisation package represents one of largest and most complex pay harmonisation programmes in Scotland’s public sector, with more than 70% of police staff receiving a higher pay package. It will improve equality and help deliver on Scotland’s fair work agenda.
“From call handlers to forensic scientists, Scotland’s civilian police staff play a critical and often frontline role in keeping people safe, and the Scottish Government has been working with the service and the Authority to invest in the workforce.
“This deal establishes common pay, terms and conditions for police staff across Scotland. It also follows the widely-welcomed thirty-one month 6.5% pay settlement for officers in Scotland.”