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Wednesday, September 22, 1999 Published at 10:46 GMT 11:46 UK


Clampdown on 'serial skivers'

The plans have been slammed as an "utter disgrace"

Council employees could be made to pay for sick leave if they exceed certain limits, in an unprecedented scheme which has angered union leaders.

More than 5,500 staff at Wandsworth Borough Council, south London, would be affected by the plans.

The BBC's Aminatta Forna: "Unions have condemned the proposals"
The authority proposes to make workers pay a day's salary, work extra hours or lose annual holiday leave if they exceed an annual amount of time taken for illness.

The Tory-run council has one of the lowest absence levels of any London borough, with rates falling from an average 11.2 days a year per employee in 1990 to a current level of 8.3.

But a target of 6.2 days per employee has been set, to bring the council within what it says are performance levels similar to the private sector.

'Tight ship'

The plans, drawn up by the authority's deputy leader Maurice Heaster, exclude staff suffering from a long-term illness.

Mr Heaster said: "It's the series of one-off 'sickies' we are trying to wipe out.

"Wandsworth has a record for providing value for money services for its residents. We have a duty to the council-tax payer to run a tight ship."

The council, which was the "jewel in the crown" of Conservative local authorities after historically setting among the lowest council tax rates in the country, was immediately accused by unions of imposing "Scrooge policies".

John Perry is co-ordinator of the Battersea and Wandsworth TUC, whose members include public services union Unison.

He said: "This is just a cheap publicity stunt to try to penny pinch. It is an utter disgrace."

'Tough scheme'

Eddie Jaggers, regional officer for Unison, said the council's proposals were "outrageous". He described Mr Heaster's use of the phrase "serial skivers" as a "very abusive term".

Bharti Patel, director of the Low Pay Unit, also criticised the plans, and said employers should aim to tackle the problems that cause absenteeism instead.

Wandsworth spokesman Steve Mayner admitted it was "a tough scheme".

But he added: "This is not about punishing our staff, some of whom are among the most hard-working around."

The scheme, which has operated in the council's main contracting arm since 1993, is due to be discussed by Wandsworth's policy and resources committee on Thursday. If passed, it will be introduced next January.

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