Unite is calling on the government to cancel the relaxation to the fit note system, because it is leading to attacks on employees’ conditions and could damage workers’ health.
On 17 December 2021 the Department for Work and Pensions announced changes to statutory sick pay to help “free up capacity” for GPs delivering coronavirus booster vaccinations.
Instead of the normal seven-day limit for a person to self-certify as sick, the DWP temporarily increased the limit to 28 days.
The change applies to all sickness absence from 10 December and is scheduled to remain in place until 26 January 2022.
However, the union is concerned that the change could encourage unscrupulous employers to put pressure on employees’ to return to work sooner than they should.
Fit note requirements
Meanwhile, doctors in the union have described the changes to the fit note regime as a “drop in the ocean” compared to the challenges faced by GPs.
Jackie Applebee, chair of Doctors in Unite, said: “GPs are suffering significant burnout due to years of increased workloads coupled with a decreasing workforce.
“The extension of self-certification for minor illnesses from seven to 28 days is in the grander scheme of things unlikely to make a significant difference.
“This change has come about because of a problem of challenged resources, not out of medical good sense. The GP-patient relationship has to be supported. It is essential that the government invests in the NHS to support GP appointments – or it will store up trouble for tomorrow.”
Unite general secretary Sharon Graham added: “If the government had consulted or discussed its plans with unions before quadrupling the reporting period for sickness absence we could have warned of the problems this would cause.
“Unite is dedicated to defending the jobs, pay and conditions of its members. If any employer thinks they can use the government’s changes to reduce sick pay or to introduce harsher sickness and absence policies they need to think again as Unite will not allow our members terms and conditions to be eroded.”
Unite said that while it understands the need to maximise take up of booster jabs, it is concerned that:
- Employers can put pressure on employees’ to return to work sooner than they should do
- Some employers have used the changes as a catalyst to seek to toughen workplace sickness absence policies or to decrease the extent and value of industrial sick pay
- Unwell workers hesitant about speaking to their GP are delaying making contact.