Businesses have always had issues with sickness absence, some more so than others, and Cardiff Council (“CC”) has one of the biggest. CC employees managed an average of 11.49 days off in 2011/12, drastically higher than the UK average of 4.5 days. This absence resulted in huge losses to the authority: over £15 million in sick pay and over £1.5 million in hiring agency staff to cover the work. To try and tackle the issue, CC has proposed that workers will not be paid for the first three days they are off sick.
A few years ago, CC was ranked in a newspaper survey as the third worst authority for sickness absence, and in 2010/11 the absence problem resulted in the dismissal of 108 workers. Currently, the waste collection and street cleansing teams have the worst absence numbers, with each employee averaging 25 sick days a year, but this is perhaps more understandable when considering the conditions they have to work in.
Although there will of course be situations of genuine sickness absence, CC is concerned that some people are taking advantage of the present system. One of the Conservative councillors has noted that when Christmas bonuses were taken away absence rates increased dramatically, which is unlikely to be a coincidence. This does suggest that people make an effort to attend work when there is extra pay on offer and CC workers may feel even more aggrieved given that they are three years into a pay freeze.
The proposals not to pay workers for the first three days they are off sick at any one time are part of Labour’s Attendance and Well Being Policy, which trade unions have consulted upon. They will apply to all CC employees, except teachers and people employed directly by schools. If a worker remains off sick after three days then they will be eligible for sick pay, provided sickness reporting procedures have been fully complied with.
Unions representing CC workers are opposed to the proposals to prevent payments to sick employees and believe workers will be angry about the plans to take away a term and condition of their employment, but the unions do recognise the need for a mechanism which helps employees return to work as soon as possible. The Policy also proposes that managers who fail to properly manage sickness absence could be faced with disciplinary action and that the formal stages of sickness absence procedure are reduced from four to three.
The proposals were presented to the Policy Review and Performance Scrutiny Committee on 27 November 2012 and, once consulted upon, the final proposals will be considered by Cabinet on 6 December 2012.