Dundee City Council workers are at “breaking point” ahead of further cuts to local services, union bosses claim, as new figures show stress levels are at an all-time high.
Figures obtained by the Tele via freedom of information requests shows the average number of days taken off by council workers each year has risen by approximately 8% since 2016.
In that time, the workforce at the council has dropped by approximately 200 staff, according to official government figures.
Dundee’s SNP administration has also just passed plans to cut £40,000 from cleaning budgets and £234,000 from next year’s primary school budget.
Both have implications for staff numbers.
In all, stress accounts for around 38% of all sick leave taken by local authority staff – and trade unions have warned that the problem is only set to get worse.
Responding to the figures, GMB Scotland organiser Helen Meldrum said: “With continuing cuts year on year, our members are suffering mentally which these statistics clearly show.
“You just can’t expect people to do more and more, or place unrealistic expectations and demands upon them, in what are very difficult circumstances at times.
“Our members simply cannot do the work of more than one person and, as a union, much of our case work involves dealing with members who are struggling with stress, under what is a very punitive and potentially discriminatory sickness absence policy, and our members are at breaking point.
“This is the human cost to the continuing austerity agenda, and it’s time our elected officials took this seriously.”
The figures follow warnings by union reps that staff were taking on increasingly “inhumane” workloads.
Local Unison chairperson Mags McGuire warned at Thursday’s budget meeting that cuts would place additional strain on the remaining workers.
Independent research by the union, prior to the Tele receiving figures, also found around 40% of sick leave among council staff was due to stress or other mental health conditions.
She added: “This is all causing stress and this is not a coincidence. Staff are leaving and are not being replaced. It has to stop.”
Projected figures for the 2019/20 financial year, which ends this month, suggest the rates of mental health sick leave may be stabilising after several years of year-on-year rises.
However, the rate still remains higher than previous years.
The Tele asked council administration leader John Alexander, who signed off on the proposed cuts, to comment.
However, he deferred to a council spokesman, who said: “The council monitors and reports absence information to senior managers and all trade unions on a monthly basis.
“We have an agreed Health and Wellbeing Framework, and have completed a review of our procedures, introducing a new Promoting Health and Attendance Policy which is complimented by mental health and wellbeing training for managers and employees.
“This has been developed with the trade unions which forms part of the council’s ‘Our People and Workforce Strategy’.
“Our occupational health provider is assisting with a greater emphasis on early intervention supports for staff.
“There are many different reasons for the causes of stress and absence which are not all work related. We work with people to help them with their own individual situation and offer assistance to them.
“All managers are focused on attendance management as a priority.”
Council pays suspended staff £100,000
Dundee City Council paid suspended staff nearly £100,000 in wages, pension contributions and bonuses in the last year, prompting criticism from opposition councillors.
Official figures provided to the Tele under freedom of information laws shows eight members of staff have been suspended by the authority in the last year.
In the last 12 months, the local authority has paid suspended workers £82,244 in wages, £16,192 in pension contributions – and £1,177 in bonuses or benefits in kind.
The council refused to release details on how many workers had been allowed back to work or dismissed in the last year, citing data protection laws.
However, there have been a number of high-profile sackings and suspensions in recent months, including head of construction Mark Ross, who quit during an investigation into claims he was treated to a golf trip in Spain by a firm given a council contract.
Construction staffer Kenny Muir was sacked during the same probe, while electrical supervisor Iain Gardyne left following claims he sold thousands of pounds’ worth of smoke detectors online.
Labour group leader Kevin Keenan said there are questions the council needs to answer on how it is using its money.
He said: “On a simple calculation of eight employees, £13,200 (per head) would suggest that they would have been suspended for some considerable time, which begs the question of procedures in the council to deal with staffing and in particular employment law.
“I am going to question officers on this and seek more detail from them that may well shed some light as to the average time it is taking them to deal with any particular matter.
“I believe investigations should be carried out swiftly and decisive action taken very quickly where there has been wrong doing.”
A council spokesman said: “Suspension is an integral part of the city council’s disciplinary process.
“It is a neutral act allowing for a thorough investigation to take place where serious allegations have been made against an employee.”