Answers sought at council staff sickness rises to more than two weeks each year

Talks have been started between council bosses and trade union officials in an attempt to find new ways of turning around rising levels of staff sickness at the local authority in Rotherham.

By Paul Whitehouse
Tuesday, 02 April, 2019, 15:23
Unwell: Sickness levels at Rotherham Council have increased

Sickness levels had been falling at the council, but in the last year the trend has been reversed, with sickness now accounting for an average of 11 days a year for every member of staff – the equivalent of losing more than two working weeks.

Council leader Chris Read has told councillors the development was a concern for both staff and the impact it would have on the council’s budget.

“A piece of work is going on to get underneath why that is happening, alongside work we have been doing with the trade unions,” he said.

One issue which may affect the figures is that the council has a relatively old workforce, with the average age of staff increasing, which opens up the possibility of increased levels of age-related illness.

Assistant Chief Executive Shokat Lal said the major causes of absence among staff included muscular skeletal problems, stress and viruses.

“We are working really hard to try to understand where absences are, what the reasons are and how we can move them forwards,” he said.

That included finding ways of helping people back to work, but could also involve the termination of contracts, said Mr Lal.

“We have done some very focused work in areas where we know there have been particular problems with stress,” he said.

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“We recognise we have to go further. There is a plan to do more in the next financial year.

“Bearing in mind the demographic of our workforce and the numbers aged over 45, there are various illnesses you would expect if you are an older member of the workforce.

“We know that in an ageing workforce there will be greater challenges in certain areas,” he said.

Absence levels were “consistent” across the authority, he said, rather than clusters of problems in certain areas.

Coun Stuart Sansome questioned whether the authority’s system of risk-assessing task staff perform was adequate and said: “We really need to look at the quality of the risk assessments, whether we are going on the right road with them.”

The authority has examined the possibility of providing incentives for staff with 100 per cent attendance records, but has it barriers such as potential conflicts with disability discrimination legislation.

However, that is an area which will come under renewed discussion in future.