Work related stress absences increase at Craigavon Council

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STRESS is a major factor for long term staff absenteeism at Craigavon Borough Council.

More than 30 per cent of those who were off sick 20 days and more in the last year put stress, depression or mental health as a reason for their absence.

The issue was raised at Monday night’s council meeting when DUP Alderman Stephen Moutray demanded assurances that the “spike in absenteeism” over recent months would be dealt with.

“This runs contrary to the good work that’s been done in the past number of years in relation to absenteeism,” he said.

According to the council minutes there has been no “obvious improvements” in attendance figures in November and while there had been some success in returning staff who were off on long term sick leave, there had been a number of new cases reported.

In last month’s environmental services committee, Mr Moutray said the council was in a serious position with the absence statistics rising month by month. He pointed out that absence was two per cent higher than at the same time last year.

The DUP man said the council had been in a bad position over absenteeism three years ago but had recovered until the recent slump.

Sinn Fein’s Johnny McGibbon called for a report specifically on work related stress and when Sinn Fein’s Liam Mackle voiced concern about the difficulty in getting staff to return to work, he was told one staff member had not been at work for up to two years.

DUP Alderman Sydney Anderson claimed the problem was across all council departments and stressed that something must have gone wrong for the absentee figures to have risen again.

Director of Environmental Services Lorraine Crawford told Monday night’s meeting: “There is a lot of long term absence where people have been in for operations. I am happy to report more at the committee meeting.”

The council said management are looking at ways to curb long term absenteeism and then focus on short term.

“If a sick line states the reason of absence as stress this triggers a referral to the Occupational Health Nurse instantly,” the council’s human resources advisor told councillors.

She said she could not emphasise enough that absence was the key responsibility of managers and figures were not where they should be and that they needed to be managed properly.

The council’s Director of Corporate Services Brona Slevin said 50 per cent of staff had never taken a sick day.

She said very good work had been done and claimed the level of stress related sickness had risen due to the increase in work load. She said that it was extremely difficult to get someone back to work with a big work load and that all staff within the organisation worked very hard.

The director referred to the economic climate and the effects it has and that her observations had been an increase in stress also due to work pressures. She said she did not believe there was a culture within the council where some staff would take off a specific number of days to add to leave as happened years ago.

A council spokesperson said an occupational health nurse has been employed since late 2010 via a nursing agency and the role includes providing support to absent staff on returning to work and health screening for both new employees and existing staff.

“There are currently 594 full time members of staff working at Craigavon Borough Council and approximately 250 casual members of staff,” she said.

“The absentee figures for the organisation over the past three years are as follows: 09/10 – 6.36% (16.3 days lost per person) 10/11 – 5.24% (12.5 days lost per person) 11/12 – 4.56% (11.1 days lost per person).”