Freedom of information request reveals worrying level of sickness among council staff
A Freedom of Information request by Plaid Cymru has revealed that almost 90,000 working days were lost at Caerphilly Council due to illness in the last financial year.
That trend has continued in the current financial year with more than 42,000 working days impacted by sickness absence between 1 April and 30 September 2023.
According to information provided by Caerphilly Council, a total of 43,363 days were lost within the Education and Corporate Services Directorate alone, making up almost half the total for 2022-23.
Stress, depression and fatigue have been identified as the chief reasons for sickness absence, something Plaid Cymru group leader Lindsay Whittle has argued could be a result of staff members working from home.
He said: “I’m still of the opinion that lots of staff are stressed and suffering from mental ill health issues due to the isolation of working from home. Any staff who are single with no caring issues, I believe, miss the camaraderie of colleagues.”
“The encouragement of working from home means there is no sense of a team, no sense of pride or sharing good practice. Isolation will lead to more mental health issues and possible claims from staff. I do not hold with the argument that people can come back to the office if they wish. This administration has encouraged people to stay away.”
Concern with processes
Plaid Cymru Councillor Gary Enright, a former Trade Union official at the council, said: “The figures are worrying with a huge number of days lost and clearly high levels of absence due to stress and other related illness.”
“I also have concerns that the council is not unable to supply the financial cost of sickness to the authority because it does not hold the data to provide the information in the format requested. Why is there not the mechanism to make this information easily information within such a large employer as a local authority?”
Fellow Plaid Cymru councillor Greg Ead said: “The absence figures are huge given the authority has around 8,000 staff. The figures show that 5,388 staff took absence due to sickness in 2022-23 and 3,033 in the first six months of 2023-24.”
“As councillors, we need as much information on what measures are being taken to reduce the level of sickness absence and in a timely manner. We should not have to keep requesting this information under the Freedom of Information process to find out what is going on.”
A Caerphilly County Borough Council spokesman said: “The health and wellbeing of the workforce is paramount and there are a range of policies and mechanisms in place to support staff whenever needed. A new wellbeing provider has recently been appointed and an Employee Wellbeing Strategy has also been endorsed to support all our employees who are at the heart of Team Caerphilly. Elected members have access to sickness absence data and HR policy updates, which are reported via the relevant scrutiny committee.”
They continued: “We are encouraged that our sickness levels are reducing and we will continue to ensure that our workforce is fully supported and that managers have appropriate policies and procedures in place to effectively support the health and wellbeing of our staff.”
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