Welcome to my Blog

I was the Head of Policy and Public Affairs at UNISON Scotland until my retirement in September 2018. I now work on several policy development projects, so all views are very definitely my own. You can also follow me on Twitter. I hope you find this blog interesting and I would welcome your comments.

Wednesday, 26 February 2014

The myth of the sickie culture and reality of unpaid overtime

The myth of the 'sickie culture' is buried with the latest Office for National Statistics (ONS) data on sickness absence.

These statistics show that the average number of days lost to sickness absence has fallen by almost 40% since 1993. TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:
“These figures prove that there is no such thing as a ‘sickie culture’, with the number days lost to ill-health falling as employers get better at managing sickness absence.

Average sickness rates in Scotland are 2.2%, about mid-table for the UK. Lower than East Midlands, Wales and the North-East, but higher than London and the South-East. Low sickness rates in these areas reflects the younger workforce and higher proportion of senior jobs.

Of course managing sickness absence is not all good news. As UNISON  Scotland surveys of sickness absence show, there is the growing culture of presenteeism – where unwell staff are pressurised into coming work by their bosses. This can prolong illness, spread germs and cause unnecessary stress throughout the workplace. A particular concern in public service workplaces like hospitals and in social care.

A recent CIPD survey found that when looking at presenteeism, employees in the public sector were more likely (39%) to say they had seen an increase in their workplace than employees in the private sector (26%).

Stress is also under recorded in sickness absence data. Many conditions caused by stress are recorded in terms of their physical manifestation rather than the underlying cause. If we want to see sickness levels brought down even further, we should be concentrating more on prevention.

Higher sickness absence rates amongst women and in repetitive jobs may suggest that flexible working, carers leave, better health and safety and imaginative job design could all contribute to lower sickness absence.

On the subject of working hours this Friday (28 Feb) is 'Work Your Proper Hours Day' - the day when those who do unpaid overtime would start to get paid if they did all their unpaid work at the start of the year. 

The TUC has published a new analysis of official figures that show the number of staff doing unpaid overtime has gone up in the public sector over the last decade, but has held steady in the private sector. 

Unpaid overtime is more common in the public sector, with more than one in four doing unpaid overtime compared to around one in six of workers in the private sector. More than a quarter (27.4 per cent) of public sector staff did unpaid overtime of at least an hour a week in 2013, up from 24.8 per cent in 2003. The average amount of unpaid overtime done by these staff is 7 hours 42 minutes a week – 18 minutes less than in 2003.

The increase in unpaid overtime across the the public sector over the last decade is almost entirely driven by more than a quarter of a million extra women doing hours for free. In 2003 a smaller proportion of women (24.3 per cent ) in the public sector did unpaid overtime than men (25.8 per cent). Women have now overtaken men with a big 3.9 percentage point increase in the numbers doing unpaid overtime to 28.2 per cent. The proportion of men doing unpaid overtime has barely changed in the last decade (up 0.1 percentage points to 25.9 per cent).

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Times are tough for public sector workers. As the cuts bite and fewer staff find themselves having to take on more work, unpaid overtime inevitably grows. Some of the increase will be down to the professionalism and commitment of staff who want to provide decent services. But there is also evidence of bullying and excessive management pressure in some workplaces. It is not surprising that morale is so low across the public sector. Hours are up, workload has increased, pay has been frozen, pensions cut and jobs insecure as public sector staff know that 60 per cent of the cuts are still to come.”

So this Friday, make sure you work your normal hours.

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