Civil servants in social welfare and Intreo offices have been attacked, punched and threatened with assault with an axe by angry claimants, according to the Civil Public and Services Union.

The union, which represents the lowest grades in the civil service, has voted to seek the reinstatement of reinforced glass screens in public offices to protect staff.

CPSU Financial Secretary Des Fagan said that in Newcastle West a member of staff had been assaulted when a man walked behind the counter in the office and punched her in the face.

He told delegates at the CPSU annual conference in Killarney that the victim was hospitalised and gardaí had been called, but the assailant walked free.

In another incident in Clonmel, a claimant had thrown a chair at a staff member and had threatened to return with an axe.

In a separate incident in Galway, a computer had been kicked off a desk, and in Waterford a phone had been thrown at a staff member, barely missing her head.

Mr Fagan stressed that he was not casting aspersions on people visiting social welfare and Intreo offices, but noted that there was a risk to employees.

He accused the Government of failing to act to protect the health and safety of staff - despite being aware of the risk - because they had vast amounts of money to defend any case that might arise.

The conference unanimously passed an emergency motion calling for adequate measures to protect the health and safety of staff, including the reinstatement of security glass screens in public offices.

Separately, delegates rejected a motion calling on the union to campaign for abortion rights in Ireland including the repeal of the Eighth Amendment restricting abortion.