Council sick leave up as union slams stress levels

Staff are struggling to deal with rising workloads. Picture: Jane Barlow
Staff are struggling to deal with rising workloads. Picture: Jane Barlow
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UNION bosses have criticised council working conditions after it emerged more staff are taking time off amid soaring stress levels.

The number of sick days taken by council employees due to stress, anxiety and depression rose by 12 per cent over the last financial year – with 33,199 sick days logged overall.

Concerned union chiefs said the rise – the biggest in three years – was down to cuts and job losses, with struggling staff forced to shoulder mounting workloads.

Frontline workers were most at risk from mental health symptoms, with housing support workers and bin men among those struggling.

John Stevenson, president of Unison’s Edinburgh branch, said council cuts were damaging staff morale and health.

He said: “The correlation for us is the sections of the council that are facing the most cuts and the biggest losses in jobs are the areas that have the highest stress levels – and that’s not surprising. The other theme that we have picked up in the past was uncertainty. There are constant reorganisations, and people don’t know what their jobs are going to be at the end of the reorganisation.”

City leaders are currently looking to plug a funding shortfall of £67 million by 2018, putting key services including sports centres at risk.

Mr Stevenson added: “You can’t continue providing the level of frontline services that the council would like to provide with the cuts proposed. Something has to go – and what goes is the morale of frontline staff and their health.”

Stress, anxiety and depression accounted for more than 20 per cent of all sick days taken by council staff in the last financial year.

Billy Watson, chief executive at the Scottish Association for Mental Health, said: “The public sector is the largest employer in Scotland and with one in six of their workforce likely to be affected by a mental health problem it is imperative that they too have the wellbeing policies and culture in place to support staff and managers.”

A city council spokeswoman said: “We are committed to protecting the health and wellbeing of staff which, in turn, helps us to provide the best service possible to our residents.

“The council provides a range of support such as a stress management policy, which has been recognised as an exemplar of best practice.

“Other services include an advice and counselling service for both work related and personal issues.”