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Unison fears Suffolk County Council's new absence policy aimed at addressing high sickness rates will 'punish staff'

Endeavour House, Ipswich (7134563)
Endeavour House, Ipswich (7134563)

Union bosses supporting civil servants have said new measures introduced by Suffolk County Council to turn around high sickness rates will only serve to punish staff.

Human resources bosses at Suffolk County Council, which employs more than 5,000 people, admitted during a scrutiny committee that the sickness rate was too high, with around 55,000 work days lost last year alone.

The new system means greater contact between an employee and their manager is needed and a more consistent approach to return to work interviews.

But the key concern is the planned implementation of the ‘Bradford Factor’ in April – an absence score system for each employee which assess disruptive or frequent absence.

The council announced that two trials are underway, but staff at Unison – the UK’s largest trade union – have questioned the purpose of the trials if a decision to implement it in April has already been made.

Eastern regional organiser Sam Leigh said: “Rather than truly listen to staff about why sickness levels have risen, or review whether the Bradford Factor will actually achieve what is required, the council has chosen to impose a system that punishes staff who have no option but to call in sick.

“These are hard-working staff who have struggled to maintain the high levels of service to the public through years of cuts and dwindling staff numbers.

“Rather than acknowledge the impact that this can have on their health, Suffolk County Council has told them this week that they are ‘disruptive’.”

Both opposition groups at the council have also expressed their concerns. Andrew Stringer, pictured, leader of the Liberal Democrat, Green and Independent group at the council, added: “By punishing staff for their absence levels, Suffolk County Council is trying to completely absolve itself of any responsibility or blame.

“The council needs to recognise that high levels of stress amongst staff, and consequently high levels of absence, are a direct response to the pressure our staff are under.

“We have cut staff numbers, cut resources and yet still expect them to provide the same level of service for the people of Suffolk.

But a council spokesman defended the policy. “A new absence policy has been introduced for staff at the council as the sickness absence rate is high, especially when capacity and resources are very tight,” he said.

“We have a lot of support available to staff to help them manage their wellbeing and health and we regularly review and improve this.”