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Last Updated: Wednesday, 23 November 2005, 13:29 GMT
High stress claim at defence base
Stress levels at a company which has a major workforce in Worcestershire have risen dramatically after privatisation according to union officials.

BBC Hereford & Worcester has discovered employees at QinetiQ, the defence research base in Malvern, have suffered unusually high levels of stress.

The Prospect union believes it is due to changes following privatisation.

QinetiQ deny the findings and say levels of sickness due to stress are far lower than the national average.

In 2001 the government decided to sell off part of what was then the Defence Evaluation and Research Agency (DERA), responsible for inventions including liquid crystal displays and microwave radar.

'Dozens of cases'

The result was a semi-privatised company, QinetiQ, of which the government now owns just over half and the rest belongs to large shareholders.

An investigation by producer Howard Belgard, for BBC Hereford & Worcester's Hearing Voices series, found before privatisation there were no abnormal levels of stress in the company.

However problems started two years ago, at about the time change from an academic environment to a business one started to happen.

Prospect represents many of the workers at QinetiQ, including those at Malvern, and also represents scientists at the Meat and Livestock Commission (MLC) - who dealt with the BSE crisis.

It said in two years it had dealt with just one case of occupational stress from the MLC compared with more than 40 at QinetiQ.

We strongly disagree with the assertion that employees in Malvern have high incidences of stress, it's simply not borne out by our own figures
QinetiQ statement
Bob King, negotiations officer for Prospect, said he had dealt with dozens of cases, from a senior scientist of more than 30 years experience dealing with responsibilities being taken away from him to young graduates facing increasing pressure to deliver.

A Worcestershire GP, who for reasons of confidentiality could not be named, told how she was shocked by the number of QinetiQ employees who came into the surgery.

"They are all middle-aged, middle class, intelligent people, and they look normal, they look like they are coping and when someone like that comes into the surgery presenting mental health issues then I'm surprised if they're not from QinetiQ," she said.

'No current claims'

A statement from QinetiQ said it takes work place stress very seriously and has a robust programme in place which meets the Health and Safety Executive standards to help staff identify and deal with all types of stress.

"We strongly disagree with the assertion that employees in Malvern have high incidences of stress, it's simply not borne out by our own figures," it read.

"According to our figures Malvern staff are more motivated and proud of their work for QinetiQ than as an average across the company."

It said as a company it loses less working time per year due to sickness compared to the national average for similar-sized companies.

"Of that working time lost per year to sickness 12% is due to stress, compared to a national average of a third of working time lost to sickness being attributed to stress," it said.

It said there are no current claims by Malvern staff against the company citing work place stress, and no settlements for work place stress have been made with trade union assistance to Malvern staff in the last two years.




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