‘Stress levels increase’ as cuts take toll for Dundee City Council staff

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YEARS of swingeing cuts are taking their toll on the health of council staff, it’s claimed today.

The number of council workers who have taken sick leave has increased over the past five years, with stress the main cause of time off.

Stress-related illnesses, such as depression, anxiety and panic attacks accounted for 20% of the time taken, or 51,285 days lost.

Earlier this year it was revealed that Dundee City Council would have to cut £23 million from its budget this year — including reducing its workforce.

Union bosses say employees face “constant worry” over their jobs and futures, while a reduction in staff is having an impact on workload.

Stuart Fairweather, Dundee branch chairman of Unite, said: “The reduction in staff over the past five years has had an impact on job security and workload.

“People are essentially being asked to do more for less and this, along with the uncertainty over the job market, is creating a lot of unhappiness.

“People have said they are feeling very down about the situation but there is also a stigma attached to mental health that compounds it.

“People are often reluctant to give stress or depression as the reason they need time off for fear of appearing weak or unable.

“The real figure for sick leave due to stress could even be higher as some people may not have come forward. It is not, of course, the case that people are weak but it is a sign of how difficult a workplace environment can be and what is expected of staff.”

Mr Fairweather praised the openness of Dundee City Council management in talking to union representatives about the issue of stress.

But he said that talking did not solve the root cause.

He added: “Management has been working with unions to consider various options to minimise stress.

“But the bigger issue of the ongoing cuts is something we want to see end.

“As long as they are going on, workers are going to be worried.”

Helen Meldrum, organiser of the Dundee branch of the GMB union, said one of the main causes of sick days was a lack of support for staff.

She added: “But I also think they haven’t been taken seriously when they’ve admitted to being stressed — it’s a big concern that they are not being listened to.

“There have been so many staff cutbacks and people are doing the jobs of two in a lot of positions.

“Our members have expressed significant anxiety over it and what the next day is going to bring.

“So much is being expected of them now. A lot of people are doing a job above their pay grade, and possibly training/experience level, due to the cutbacks.

“They’re taking on the responsibility of the job but none of the pay.

“The council needs to seriously rethink what it is doing.”

There were more than 8,000 more days lost in the last financial year compared to five years ago — and more than 700 more staff needed sick leave than in 2011-12.

The figures obtained by the Tele show that the longest period of absence was 584 days, while 250,000 days were lost as a result of 29,965 members of staff taking time off in total over the past five financial years — the equivalent of 690 years of work.

Protests were held in Dundee earlier this year, with dozens of people marching against moves by the council to make millions in savings.

Other reasons for sick leave included concussion, fractures, infections and colds.

A Dundee City Council spokesman said: “The council monitors and reports absence information to the management team and trade unions on a monthly basis.

“This has shown an improving trend in the last 12 months.

“We are working proactively on a new health and wellbeing approach collaboratively with the trade unions as part of the new ‘Our People Strategy’ and have a target for all service areas to be engaged with healthy working lives.

“Our occupational health provider is assisting with a greater emphasis on early intervention support for staff experiencing difficulties.

“There are many differing reasons for absence due to anxiety, stress and depression, with the majority not linked directly to the workplace.”