POLICE chiefs have admitted that fears over future job security has caused a drop in sickness days among the force’s civilian staff. Senior officers introduced “robust” new measures last year to tackle sickness levels, which had soared to be the highest among the eight Scottish forces.
Union officials agreed that the move to a single national force next year had left staff “fearing the unknown”, and worried that being off sick could hurt their chances of keeping a job.
The number of absences between April and June fell to 4.6 per cent of working days compared with 5.3 for the same period last year.
In a report to the police board bearing the signature of Chief Constable David Strang, the force concluded that worries among staff over their jobs had been a major factor behind the “positive trend”.
The report said that the drop may be a “manifestation of a truism that people’s concerns about their future and the perceived extent to which factors such as absence, performance and conduct could impact on job security ultimately leads to better attendance”.
Around 175 backroom staff members have taken voluntary redundancy since the start of last year. The force launched the scheme in a bid to slash its budget, with nearly £2.5 million in redundancy money paid out in the last two years.
Lucille Inglis, the Unison branch secretary who represents the civilian staff, said: “People are very concerned about their jobs at the moment as we move towards a single police force. It’s the uncertainty more than anything else following Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill’s statement that not all the current police staff will be needed.”
Under the sickness monitoring scheme, civilian staff who are absent more than three times in a year face a review in front of a line manager to try to find any “underlying” reasons for not reporting to work.
Ms Inglis said: “People are not being blamed for sickness but it can lead to disciplinary action. If there is a criteria for keeping staff in a job then sickness and discipline are two likely ones. Staff are nervous about this and feel they can’t be off sick.”
Iain Whyte, convener of the police board, said: “It’s an issue which needs to be balanced. We don’t want people coming to work if they are genuinely sick as it may have further impact on their general health in the future, as well as spreading illness in the workplace.
“At the same time, it’s good to see that overall levels of sickness absence are coming down because that helps the service work better. Better attendance levels can actually improve job security because money is not being spent on overtime to cover for sickness.”
A police spokesman said: “In July 2011, Lothian and Borders Police implemented a new policy to address the number of working days lost due to police staff illness.
“Since its introduction, there has been an increase in staff attendance levels.”
Across the country, union bosses believe that around 3000 backroom jobs could be lost from the police and fire service. A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “Managing staff attendance is rightly a matter for the police service.”