COUNCIL workers calling in sick are set to be grilled by a nurse over their symptoms, as part of tough new measures to crack down on absenteeism.
The council plans to force through a raft of new measures in a bid to cut back on the £12 million-a-year cost of staff taking days off because of illness.
Among the proposals would be making staff phone in to a private call centre.
Trade unions have refused to accept proposals to reduce the number of sick days taken that trigger potential disciplinary action, and have also raised concerns about asking staff to call in to a private firm and speak to a nurse instead of their line manager.
But council officials have issued staff and the unions with notice that they will force through the changes at the end of this month and insist that the measures are essential to break away from the growing sick-note culture.
Union bosses argue the “Draconian” measures will result in more sick people who miss work legitimately facing the sack.
John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of the trade union Unison, said: “This could increase sickness absence because people will feel pressurised into coming into work when they have something like flu and end up infecting everyone else. Our concern is that good workers could be sacked because of legitimate sickness.
“If there is a problem this is not tackling it. It will affect people that are genuinely ill and it is a Draconian set of measures.”
A 12-month pilot was launched in November with staff within sections of the health and social care and services for communities departments calling private firm FirstCare to report that they are having to take the day off.
Staff at the firm then pass on details to the line manager and can transfer the employee to a nurse for further medical advice in order to try to get them fit for a quicker return.
Officials hope that offering medical advice will help them reduce the number of sick days.
Currently, monitoring of staff absence begins when an individual has three self-certificated absences in six months, but under the new scheme this will reduce to three instances within 12 months.
Possible disciplinary action can also currently begin when staff have ten days off in any six months, but this will change to six days in any 12 months when the new regulations come in.
Councillor Joanna Mowat, finance spokeswoman for the Conservative group, said: “We can’t afford these sickness rates, although we will scrutinise these plans very carefully. Where there is genuine sickness, I’m sure it will be covered but we are not a charity and we cannot afford people that are not working productively.”
Alastair Maclean, director of corporate governance at the council, said: “The council is serious about driving down sickness absence.
“The proposed tighter managing attendance procedures, being used in councils elsewhere, will undoubtedly assist in improving this.”