Health, safety and welfare produce multiple concerns

Local government delegates hear horror stories as they debate motions on stress, hot-desking and disability leave

In a busy morning at UNISON’s local government conference in Liverpool today, delegates discussed a range of issues around health, safety and welfare.

The question of disability leave is one of particular concern, with Bev Miller for the national disabled members’ committee pointing out that the “duration of disability leave should not have a limited time.

“A proper disability policy [is needed] to mitigate against any unfair treatment of disabled employees.”

John Actrill spoke of how he has set up a disabled workers’ meeting at Portsmouth City Council.

“It is most important that a local authority has a forum set up for disabled workers” so that they can voice their grievances.

Conference heard of a worker who had cancer and was told that she had to take 10 days annual leave every time she had internal radio therapy, because she became radioactive after each treatment.

Mack Evans for the executive stated that “we can’t rely on local government employers” to grant good disabled leave policies.

“There is a cost to granting disability leave and no legal basis to grant it, so we need to campaign for these policies to be implemented.”

Delegates pointed out that a lack of proper disability leave is discriminatory against disabled and older workers.

Conference called on the executive to:

The Northern region’s Kelly Philpott introduced a motion looking at a “breakthrough in tackling stress, bullying and harassment”.

The solution lies in prevention, with the Health and Safety Executive management standards approach to tackling stress, with its six primary causes.

Surveys are used and then focus groups. The breakthrough is in “full-branch involvement” in the process and joint working with the employer.

Joan McNulty of Stockport local government said that “stress should not be inevitable because of the way work is organised.” In a local survey, 80% of staff felt they’d been stressed at work in the last year – 40% had considered suicide.

The branch is now working with local managers to produce a solution.

Karen Pearson Loughlin from Hartlepool said that she didn’t feel the bullying and harassment policy at her workplace was fully inclusive.

It “didn’t feel it dealt enough to tackle sexual harassment. The [UNISON] women’s group worked with the employer to create a sexual harassment policy for every employee.

“We’re now working with the TUC to get in place their Dying to Work policy,” which aims to to help workers with terminal illnesses.

For the executive, Diane Peacock said that “basic respect is the key.” And “if you think a colleague is under pressure”, ask if they need a chat or a cup of tea. “Offer a sympathetic ear”.

The service group executive was instructed to:

  • identify appropriate resources to develop training resources and materials;
  • ask regions to fully back work on the issue;
  • campaign to have illness from work-related stress categorised as an industrial injury.

Conference also heard about the difficulties caused for disabled workers by hot-desking.

Several delegates described the problems for disabled workers of having office furniture and equipment adjusted by whoever had used a workstation previously. Changing them to what a disabled worker needs can itself cause pain and other problems.

Sonia Stewart from Manchester called this “unreasonable adjustments” and said that they have to stop.

For the executive, Jane Doolan posed the following: “So you get into work to find that the early bird has caught the worm: every desk is taken. You take your laptop and you search, possibly two floors up, two floors down, until you find a desk.

“Now imagine that if you’re a disabled worker.”

Conference agreed to instruct the executive to: