My name is Sarah Feeney and I am the branch secretary for the Coventry City Branch of UNISON. I wanted to contact you personally following on from your tweet earlier today. First of all, I would like to apologise if the tone of our latest schools email caused you upset, it was meant as a light hearted email to highlight, as we have previously, where received risk assessments have not been received from schools. It is a legal requirement that the risk assessments are shared with Trades Unions and it is vitally important that we have the chance to read them and ask for any amendments on behalf of staff. It is also important that we communicate to members where schools have and have not provided their risk assessments so members know if their Trade Union has been see them or not. Keeping members safe is our top priority.
We do not feel that we were suggesting your SLT had in any way failed to look after you during this time; it has been the case for some other schools where members of staff had copies of the risk assessments and were able to forward them on to us. We have had no concerns raised about your school’s support during this time.
I am more than happy to arrange to speak to you in person about this however, I genuinely wanted to tell you that we did not mean to cause any offence nor give any implication of failure to your SLT.
International Workers Memorial Day commemorates those people who have tragically lost their lives at work. Each year the trade union movement comes together to remember the dead whilst at the same time, continue their fight for the living.
This year, we have produced a video to mark the day.
Coventry City UNISON note that sickness absence due to stress has risen 10% in the last year. At a time of austerity with many council jobs having been lost and demand for services ever increasing this is no surprise to us. Coventry City UNISON are working with our members to try to address the issue of stress in the workplace and the causes of it. The union will be coming forward with proposals for the council to consider a proper mental health strategy; this is an issue that UNISON has been raising for some considerable time even getting the employer to do some training with MIND but unfortunately for many of our members they have not seen any benefit of this.
Sarah Feeney, Branch Secretary said in response to Cllr Mutton’s comments, “We were very surprised to see Cllr Mutton’s comments regarding his belief that an unnamed union has been encouraging its members to go off sick. The reality is that many of our members who are off sick with stress have needed time away from the workplace to get better. Our considerable experience tells us that it is a matter for the medical profession to determine whether an employee is fit for work and not a trade union. What is more have also consistently raised issues of Equality and Diversity that affect the culture of the work place which in turn impacts on absence. These concerns are well known to the employer.
In a number of cases management inaction for a period of months has led to both the absence and the prolonged nature of it and we would be more than happy to discuss these matters with Cllr Mutton. In respect of his comment about carers taking time off sick for childcare we do not recognise that from our work with our members; in reality a large amount of the sickness total is due to long periods of absence largely due to stress issues. The City Council needs to take seriously the issue of its duty of care to employees that is enshrined in law”
Mental health and wellbeing are major issues in our world and also in the workplace today. A recently produced report in the West Midlands says that “40% of all absenteeism can be attributed to poor mental health. In five years, this is expected to rise to 70%”. These figures are truly shocking and serve as a wake-up call to our employer for appropriate supportive action for all employees. Austerity cuts have left staff under more pressure, facing increased stress and anxiety.
For our part UNISON takes the issue very seriously and has worked with the City Council and MIND to provide a training programme for managers on Mental Health. We would like to see this go further and introduce training for all employees on Mental Health awareness. For those of us who represent members in the workplace we have seen a marked increase in mental health issues presented to us. Mental health needs a much more prominent role in our workplace, a subject which is still too much of a taboo. We must challenge this and as the report suggests “value mental health wellbeing as an asset, not as a hindrance”.
We must create a more open culture and we can do this if our employer steps up to the issue and works with us. We know we work in an environment of constant pressure too and this must be balanced by a supportive workplace culture where employees feel valued.
We have raised the issue with the City Council and intend to discuss a new strategy for Mental Health in our workplaces. Together we can be better. Join UNISON today to help us fight to end discrimination.