Absence of staff due to sickness cost authority £2.25 million during last financial year

Sick pay cost Shetland Islands Council more than £2.25 million in the last financial year, though the number of sick days taken by staff is continuing to decline steadily.

Absence due to sickness in the first six months of 2010/11 was just over five days for teachers, down from 6.8 days last year. Other SIC employees lose an average of 11.4 days.

That is down from 12.2 days last year and both sets of figures are comparable with Scotland-wide local authority statistics from 2008/9, when the average was 7.4 days for teachers and 12.5 days for other employees.

However, the numbers are considerably worse than the UK-wide average of 6.4 days in the public and private sectors combined, according to a survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) earlier this year.

Efforts to address the issue by the council are described as “promoting attendance”, rather than stamping out skiving, though North Isles councillor Laura Baisley did note that, while people were often genuinely ill, there was no doubt that a “duvet day culture can easily grow up and spread” – not just inside the council but within any modern day workplace.

Although the average number of sick days taken is declining, the overall cost to the authority is likely to increase as £1.18 million has been spent at the midway point of the current financial year, partly because the number of full-time equivalent staff members has gone up from 2,666 to 2,739 since December.

The highest rate of absence is in education and social care, which accounts for four in every five of the SIC’s workforce. So far in 2010/11 the rate is 6.2 per cent, which does show a substantial improvement on the 7.2 per cent recorded two years ago. It remains significantly higher than the 3.6 per cent absence rate for workers within infrastructure services.

Every one per cent reduction would save the local authority around £400,000 a year and the council says it is trying to take a “more proactive approach” to reducing absences. But a report before Monday’s meeting noted there had been “fairly poor compliance” with measures put in place to ensure people are able to turn up for work.

Abiding by the UK government’s newly-introduced “statement of fitness to work”, a replacement for doctors’ sick notes, has made “little impact” so far. It is an attempt to get staff, employers and doctors to consider whether an individual may be able to return to work if they could do some, or all, of their job with support.


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