Hazards Campaign statement on the Government response to ‘Health at work- an independent review of sickness absence’

Hazards Campaign statement on the Government response to
‘Health at work- an independent review of sickness absence’

The government’s response (http://dwp.gov.uk/docs/health-at-work-gov-response.pdf), like the Black/Frost report itself, is based on false notions of ‘sick note culture’, a punitive ‘all work is good for you and if you are sick, work will make you better’ approach.  There is no evidence to support this, much research shows that ‘presenteeism’ costs more than ‘absenteeism’, and workers suffering from bugs have recently been warned by the NHS Alliance not to spread colds and ‘flu by going to work!

The government response completely fails to acknowledge that work can and does make over a million workers sick each year, and that far more effort needs to be put into preventing this in order to reduce sickness absence, and also to provide new occupational health therapies and rehabilitation accessible via GPs, so that workers are helped to recover fully before returning to work.

The government response will do nothing at all to prevent workers from becoming ill, or deal with presenteeism, or to ensure that sick workers actually get any early rehabilitation, only offering the insecurity and fear of assessment by a private company whose aim and profit depend on forcing sick workers back to work as quickly as possible.  It is also marketising workers’ sickness so it can be sold to private sector companies to profit from, as for example ATOS profits from the widely criticised operation of the Employment and Support Allowance assessments.

Setting up ‘a state funded health and work assessment and advisory service to make occupational health advice available to employers and employees’ sounds good but it appears to be a call centre based system, with sign posting and advice, but no detail of how it will be run and managed, of any occupational medical input or advocacy for workers, nor does it include development of any new rehabilitation and therapies essential for workers’ recovery.  Referral of workers for independent assessment after 4 weeks sick leave risks increasing the stress and insecurity of already sick people.  The idea that 4 weeks off sick is ‘long term’ is ridiculous as many workers suffering work-related stress or musculo-skeletal disorders only go off sick when they are absolutely unable to carry on, and in 4 weeks they will barely have had time to recover from the acute phase of their illness, let alone be fit to return to work, or even to face assessment.  By-passing the workers’ own GP, risks repeating all the errors of the ATOS WCA assessments for ESA, risk conflicts, and may breach patient confidentiality.  It is also cruel, as GPs are often the only protection sick and injured workers have from unhealthy work, punitive sickness absence management and the threat of job loss.

There are some areas where the government has backed away from the wilder aspects of the Black/Frost recommendations.  Such as deciding not to reconsider the ban on pre-employment health questionnaires.  But the proposal to remove the requirement to keep sick pay records is a step backwards as employers cannot manage sickness absence without record keeping (Chapter 3 paras 20-23).  But there is no proposal for tax relief for GPs and employers to provide good occupational health diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation to workers.  80% of large employers provide occupational health services, but only 10% of small employers do, and the Hazards Campaign fears many employers will now use the proposed state funded service as a substitute for proper occupational health care undermining any current good practice, in a race to the bottom.

The Hazards Campaign deplores the  recommendation to publish tribunal award information to show employers that they are lower than they think as it is encourages employers to break the law by sacking workers who are off sick  (Chapter 3 paras 32-34).

For more information contact the Hazards Campaign 0161 636 7557

Hilda Palmer
Hazards Campaign Secretariat

c/o Greater Manchester Hazards Centre
Windrush Millennium Centre
70 Alexandra Road
Manchester M16 7WD

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