Tower Hamlets staff to strike over sickness procedures

Staff at Tower Hamlets council will hold a one-day strike tomorrow (Tuesday 7 February) over sickness procedures, which union leaders have labelled among the harshest in local government.

The strike, which follows a 75% ‘yes” vote by Unison members, is set to affect all council services except schools in the east London borough.

Staff are protesting about the sickness procedure, under which they have to call in every day for the first five days of any absence, then they must phone their manager every day and a call centre with non-medically trained staff, regardless of the seriousness of the illness they are suffering from.

The council is spending £100,000 a year on the call centre contract, while at the same time laying off staff and making cuts from its HR and occupational health departments, Unison alleges.

Unison branch secretary, Jean Geldart, said: “Staff are sick of the council’s bullying approach. They introduced the call centre with no consultation, and despite our best efforts to get meaningful negotiations they have just ploughed ahead.”

In a statement, Tower Hamlets said: “The council makes no apology for wanting to continuously improve our services to local people and improving attendance is an important way to do this. Reducing time lost through sickness absence will reduce costs and further improve vital services.

“Currently an average of 10.8 days are lost per employee every year. We believe that with the right strategy and support for our staff, we can and will do better.

“The concept of using a call centre approach for staff absence provides employees with advice from trained individuals and qualified medical staff to help get them back to work. There is much evidence to suggest that this sort of intervention from an employer does reduce sickness levels, and indeed, some trade unions themselves use this approach.”

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