Unison polls union members over changes to sick-leave policy

Public sector and health services union Unison is carrying out a major survey of its members amid signs of growing anger among staff over changes to their procedures for reporting sickness absence.

In February, Unison members at Tower Hamlets Council in London staged at one-day walkout over changes to how workers called in sick. But the council stressed the strike had not led to any disruption in services.

The council has required workers to call in every day for the first five days of any absence, as well as phone their manager and a call centre staffed by non-medically trained employees, regardless of the seriousness of the illness they are suffering from.

The union is now polling its health and safety representatives over the issue. It has already posted out 5,000 surveys, and hopes to develop a ‘toolkit’ to help members respond to changes. The results are expected to be released in June.

A Unison spokeswoman said: “It is something our members feel very strongly about. Employers should be looking at the underlying causes of sickness and absence, not just tackling it by changing their policies.”

But Tower Hamlets, which loses an average of 10.8 days per employee per year to sickness, was unrepentant about the changes, which were introduced last September.

It said in a statement: “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,” it added.

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