The fight for fair sickness absence procedures and ‘Disability Leave’

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2016 Local Government Service Group Conference
25 February 2016

Conference is concerned about the Treasury led consultation on the review of sickness absence in the public sector. This includes a review of current sickness management systems and sick pay. The review could lead to a weakening of rights and have a detrimental impact on disabled workers. The Conservatives have indicated their contempt for Employment Tribunals by not supporting restrictions on employers in their dealings with their employees. Setting tribunal fees at the higher rate for discrimination demonstrates that the government has no understanding of the issues disabled and other under-represented groups face in the workplace on a daily basis.

We know that some local authorities have already tried to ‘open up’ sickness payment provisions for negotiation, sometimes successfully. Increasingly councils are choosing to use sickness absence when selecting staff for redundancy. They don’t all disregard disability related sick leave. Even those that claim they do don’t always record disability related sick leave separately or will argue about what is and isn’t a disability.

Conference is concerned that even without the backdrop of the consultation local authority employers are:

1)Using more regressive and oppressive sickness absence management processes and policies to get rid of disabled workers;

2)Failing to properly consider appropriate ‘Disability Leave’ for workers and reasonable adjustments; and

3)Avoiding employing people who they know are disabled.

Flexible working policies, nationally agreed sickness policies and the Disability Equality Duty (before it was replaced by the Equality Act 2010) meant that for a long time Local Government was seen as a good career option for disabled people. But the unsustainable level of cuts and constantly changing government policy mean this is no longer the case and disabled people are increasingly being selected for redundancy or pressured into taking voluntary redundancy.

We know that disabled people, especially those with mental health issues, have significantly greater difficulty finding another job when they are made redundant than non-disabled people. Additionally we know from other government policies that unemployed disabled people especially, those with mental health issues, will continue to be harassed and cajoled into inappropriate or unsuitable employment or lose benefits

Conference calls upon the Local Government Service Group to work with the National Disabled Members Committee to seek for ways to:

a)Campaign for the protection and improvement of rights for disabled workers;

b)Provide guidance to branches on how to defend sick pay and ensure that disabled members aren’t targeted under sickness absence procedures;

c)Encourage local authorities to use UNISON guidance to introduce Disability Leave policies.