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Yet another city council crackdown on absnteeism

Yet another city council crackdown on absnteeism

🕔25.Sep 2012

Two-thirds of Birmingham City Council’s estimated £35 million annual sick-pay bill is accounted for by staff who have been off work for more than two months, it has emerged.

An increase in long term illness threatens to push absenteeism levels to the highest for a decade at the country’s largest local authority, according to new figures.

Average time off between April and July hit almost four days, during a period when sickness levels would usually be expected to fall.

If the trend continues until next April,with anxiety, stress and depression the reasons most given for not going to work.

At the moment the council is predicting an average 11.6 days, which is sharply higher than a target of 9.25 days and above all known private sector comparisons.

The city’s new Labour leader, Sir Albert Bore, has ordered another crackdown on unnecessary absenteeism – the latest in more than 15 years of attempts to tackle the issue.

Labour councillors were severely criticised by their Tory and Liberal Democrat opponents between 1999 and 2004, when sickness reached record levels. However, strategies developed to solve the problem by the 2004-2012 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition proved largely ineffective.

Employment Committee chairman Coun Muhammed Afzal has ordered weekly monitoring of employees on long term sickness after it was confirmed that 136 people have been away for over six months – an average 45 weeks per person.

Assistant director of human resources at the council, Dr Mashaq Ally, said the 136 included “complex cases” often involving acute psychological problems. There were also examples of people with terminal cancer.

An unidentified proportion of the 136 are thought to be on full pay after more than a year at home because they are involved in legal action against the council over alleged accidents at work.

Dr Ally hit out at managers who he said were not using expensive computer software which is able to track the daily sickness records of every employee at the press of a button.

It had been expected that the new system would allow managers to identify possible malingerers and put paid to people persistently taking time off.

Dr Ally added: “We have a monitoring system and it is very robust. But we need managers to use the system.

“These managers are persistently ignoring corporate policy and letting the city down.”

Between April and July this year council staff took almost 59,000 sick days. The highest levels of absenteeism were in children’s and adults social services, boosted by a policy that anyone with a heavy cold working with vulnerable people should stay at home.

Work is underway to calculate an accurate figure for the cost to the public purse of sickness, which has been estimated at about £35 million a year. The true figure is expected to be higher when the cost of hiring agency staff and management time devoted to administering absenteeism is taken into account.



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