UNISON called for a strategy to combat mental health issues in the workplace arising as a result of increasing workloads and other workplace pressures faced as a consequence of UK Government austerity cuts and the brutal financial cuts to local government.
This strategy will call for local government employers to ensure effective workload management schemes, suitable stress risk assessments, mental health action plans and policies are in place in consultation with branches.
At the same time, UNISON will continue to fight austerity, and to campaign, pressurise and lobby both Scottish and Westminster governments for more funding in local government, to help support the mental health and well-being of the workforce.
Scott Donohoe, Scottish Regional Representative, moving Composite B, Mental Health and Workloads, slammed the intolerable increase in workloads, and pointed out that staffing levels are cut to the bone and morale is rock bottom.
Scott explained: “The HSE figures for 2016/17 show 1.3 million workers suffered ill health at work, 526,000 cases of stress, anxiety or mental health, and 9.9 million working days lost and a cost to society of over £14billion. A recent report from Lancaster University on the scourge of Presenteeism [attending work whilst sick] costs £15.1billion annually, so more than sickness absence.”
He underlined some of the cuts in local government in Scotland, announcements of £133 million over two years with another round of job cuts for Glasgow , and £160 million over four years for Edinburgh and moreover East Dunbartonshire’s 90% plus vote for strike action in response to another brutal attack on terms and conditions and trade union facility time.
Scott continued, “The decimation of our members’ jobs across Scotland is an absolute scandal and must be resisted with all means at our disposal. Members are facing increased work demands due to cuts in the local authority workforce across the country. The demands on public services are also increasing due to the consequence of the economic crisis just as the workforce decreases.
“In addition our members often come under pressure to adopt new cost-cutting working practices under the guise of modernisation, service reform, or transformation, which have little or nothing to do with improving services to the Scottish people. Many members are coming under pressure to carry out paid and unpaid overtime.”
Scott highlighted Glasgow City’s NO to Overwork campaign that has been challenging excessive workloads for a number of years. He also recognised the great work branches were doing across the UK.
“We must step up our efforts and continue to support our members and activists against the austerity agenda. Supporting our members and activists both collectively and individually to say “No! Enough is enough”
Tony Slaven, South Lanarkshire Branch, seconding the Composite, said: “ How about this for a simple message? Years of austerity and cuts in council budgets means cuts in staffing levels, increase in workloads, attacks on terms and conditions, constant restructures. It’s dead simple. All increase poor mental health. Such as anxiety, stress, and depression for our members.
“As reps, we are seeing and dealing with more grievances, absences, and capability procedures. There are local authorities that recognise the growing problem of poor mental health in the workplace only to find austerity and the cuts are relentless.”
Tony applauded branches that have managed to negotiate and establish mental health and well-being policies in the workplace, however, he cautioned: “These policies may look good sitting unopened in the Director’s office – but that is not where they belong – they need to be working for all of us on the front line – where they must actually be applied.
“My local authority produced a document on Mental Health where they failed to mention workload – when challenged they said they didn’t think that this was an issue –this is what we are fighting against.”
Alison MacCorquodale from the Western Isles, speaking on behalf of the Service Group Executive, said: “Hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost from our sector, placing a huge burden on those workers who remain. As budgets are slashed and jobs vanish, workloads become excessive and targets untenable.
“Austerity has also increased the demand for the services we provide – with that demand coming from the most vulnerable in our society. Whichever way you look at it, our members’ jobs have got harder.
“Our members are under more stress than ever before. Their work-life balance is off kilter and they are being forced to work in far riskier environments.
“So Conference, our fight against the cuts and our fight for the future of local government is also a fight for the mental wellbeing of all of our members.”