Staff sick and tired of council’s sickness policy

Tower Hamlets Council has hit back at union claims that its sickness absence procedures are “among the harshest in local government”.

Unison members at the east London council held a one-day strike last Tuesday in protest at the policy, under which they have to call in every day for the first five days of any absence. Once that five-day trigger is reached, they must then not only phone their manager every day but also a call centre, regardless of the seriousness of the illness they are suffering from.

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.”

But a spokesman for Tower Hamlets said the council “makes no apology” for wanting to improve staff attendance.

“Reducing time lost through sickness absence will reduce costs and further improve vital services,” he said. “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 spokesman also defended the use of the call centre approach, insisting it provides employees with advice from trained individuals and qualified medical staff to help get them back to work.

“There is evidence to suggest that this sort of intervention from an employer does reduce sickness levels and, indeed, some trade unions themselves use this,” he said.

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