THERE have been calls for a probe into new figures that revealed more than eight per cent of council staff have taken time off because of stress over the last two years.
The statistics, revealed through freedom of information legislation, show that 1686 separate employees within the city council have been absent at some point during September 2009 and July this year due to stress, depression, mental health and fatigue symptoms.
This represents 8.43 per cent of the total council workforce, which consists of around 20,000 employees.
Edinburgh Tory leader Councillor Jeremy Balfour called for an investigation and a breakdown of the various departments where the affected employees are based.
He said: “It does seem a very high figure and I think we have to look at what support we are giving to people at the early stages of this, and what can be done to help these people back to work as soon as possible.”
Cllr Andrew Burns, leader of the city’s Labour group, branded the figures “very worrying”. He said: “I think it’s essential that the council makes it clear to all employees what services are available to try and reduce the level of absence, because it does seem particularly high.”
However, the council pointed out that the overall absence rate, based on the number of days lost, was declining, with the most recent figure being 4.9 per cent for the period September 2010 to August this year.
John Stevenson, president of the Edinburgh branch of trade union Unison, said the 8.43 per cent figure came as no surprise.
He said: “It sounds like a very high figure but it’s not surprising given the pressure that council staff have been put under in recent years, with this constant cutting of jobs but no cutting of expectations of what service is going to be delivered.
“It would be helpful to know more about it but I think it’s pretty obvious without necessarily having an inquiry that if you make cuts, as the council is doing, you are going to put more and more people under pressure if you want something delivered by fewer people.”
The city’s finance convener, Cllr Phil Wheeler, said: “The council has rigorous procedures in place to tackle the issue, as the wellbeing of our staff is extremely important.
“We participate in the Healthy Working Lives programme, a national framework which promotes health in the workplace. All staff have access to a confidential counselling and support helpline, and we regularly consult with staff on their working environment.”
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