By JOHN ROBERTSON
Skiving council workers who are giving the SIC a bad name for absenteeism could get an unpleasant surprise if an idea for clamping down on their cheating is taken up.
The practice of taking so-called “duvet days”, where employees do not bother turning up for work, is really starting to annoy councillors, especially those who used to work in council offices and know exactly what goes on – or indeed does not.
A seven-page report on a “promoting attendance strategy” – not a euphemism for stamping out skiving – appeared at yesterday’s meeting of the services committee. However, the report was just for noting, rather than requiring decisions or promising much action except in helping employees avoid genuine sickness.
Shetland teachers have the worst attendance record for their profession in Scotland but it is a fraction of the sickness rate among over 3,000 staff working in community care and children’s services. Sickness pay for education and social care staff alone costs the SIC £1.5 million a year, not including the cost of providing cover for the ones missing.
Ex-council employee Rick Nickerson said the report was not good enough and wanted proposals to fix the problem.
Ex-SIC development official Alastair Cooper said it was a big and serious issue which was not being properly discussed, suggesting the culture among the 4,021 employees was such that some think they are entitled to take a “duvet day” every six months.
Mr Cooper said the council never looked at absence management properly and its procedure for conducting return-to-work interviews with those on long-term sick leave was “treated with derision” by those who prefer to stay at home and pocket public money rather than work for it.
The issue is close to the heart of councillor and sheriff’s officer Allison “Flea” Duncan, a man who hates waste and, as a former football referee, dislikes cheats. He wants the council to get advice from the NHS which has managed to whip its skivers into shape.
Another ex-council worker Betty Fullerton agreed with what had been said, adding that there was a need for a change of culture in the council workforce, which was not easy to do. She wanted to see an action plan within a few months and called on councillors to keep their finger on the issue.
Councillor Laura Baisley, who reckoned she had taken two sick days in 15 years, had a cunning plan: why not send councillor Duncan round to those absent for the day armed with a get well card and some awkward questions?