Mental health and workloads in the council workfor

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2018 Local Government Service Group Conference
1 January 2018

The Westminster government’s slash and burn response to the economic crisis, and their austerity measures have resulted in drastic financial cuts to local government. Council employers are being forced to make radical cost savings. It is no surprise that the first attacks being made are to staffing levels, and terms and conditions of employment. The years of austerity and cuts in council budgets have increased the pressures on staff with cuts in staffing levels, increasing workloads and attacks on terms and conditions of employment. Regular staffing reviews and re-structuring have created a constant level of insecurity amongst the workforce with a relentless pressure for more cuts, more redundancies and more fear for the future.

The government’s programme of cuts to benefits, jobs and services together with their wholesale attack on employment rights has caused a sharp rise in conditions such as anxiety, stress and depression. Redundancies, pay cuts, job insecurity, cuts to staffing budgets, unmanageable workloads, long working hours and higher performance targets are all taking their toll on workers’ mental health. Workers are expected to continue to deliver high standards of service whilst managing the increasing pressure on themselves. Austerity is impacting on council workers’ mental well-being.

The cuts to local government services have led to an agenda of constant organisational change resulting in increased stress levels and other detrimental effects on the health safety and wellbeing of the workforce. This has also led to a massive increase in workload for branch activists and officers and significant increase in mental health, stress and capability casework. UNISON shop stewards recognise an increasing casework of grievances, absences and capability.

Despite the fact that conditions such as depression and anxiety affect one in six workers in the UK each year, eight out of 10 employers do not have a mental health policy to help sustain good mental health in the workplace. The stigma that surrounds this issue, combined with increased insecurity at work, means many workers do not disclose that they are experiencing mental distress. This leaves them vulnerable to disciplinary action and dismissal. The crucial role our reps play supporting members with mental health problems is taking on even greater significance and they require continuing support, training and guidance.

Governments and many employers have stated that they recognise the growing problem of stress in the workplace and the impact that this is having on staff. The 2017 UK government review of workplace mental health made some key recommendations; produce and implement mental health at work plan, develop awareness among employees, promote good management through line managers, provide good working conditions and monitoring of employee mental health and wellbeing. However the austerity and cuts are relentless.

Members in Scotland are facing increased work demands due to cuts in the local government workforce across the country. The demands on councils are also increasing due to the consequence of the economic crisis just as the workforce decreases. In addition our members often come under pressure to adopt new cost-cutting working practices under the guise of “modernisation” or “service reform” which have little or nothing to do with improving services to local communities.

Conference applauds those branches that have been able to negotiate effective mental health wellbeing policies and raised awareness of the causes of stress in the workplace.

Conference agrees we must step up our efforts and continue to support our members and activists in this crucial area.

Conference therefore calls on the SGE to:

1) Produce negotiating guidance on mental well-being in the council workforce including on how to conduct stress audits and ensure that these are carried out whenever councils reduce staffing levels or increase workloads;

2) Secure more resources to help support our branch activists; including additional training and development, mental health first aid, produce campaigning materials, briefings, recruitment of new activists etc;

3) Work with employers to ensure mental health action plans are implemented across our bargaining groups and hold them to account;

4) Promote the use of effective workload management schemes;

5) Campaign and put pressure on employers to implement robust and effective workload management schemes;

6) Continue to publicise the brutal impact of austerity on local government and our members who deliver it;

7) Continue to campaign, pressurise and lobby both Westminster and the devolved governments for more funding in all our local authorities to enable them to support their workforce’s mental wellbeing whilst delivering local services.