Concern about rise in sickness among staff involved in Sunderland Council job switch

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CONCERNS have been raised for the welfare of council workers redeployed in the wake of public funding cuts.

Sunderland City Council’s Switch programme was set up earlier this year to find work for employees whose posts were axed to help cope with millions of pounds in Government grant reductions.

Unions and opposition councillors back the scheme, part of efforts to avoid mass redundancies, but questions have been raised after figures show workers in the Switch pool have a higher sickness rate than other council staff.

Deputy council leader Harry Trueman said: “The sick rate for Switch employees in the past year is 5.99 per cent compared with 4.27 per cent for the rest of the non-school workforce.

“This is addressed in line with management procedures.”

Coun Trueman was speaking in response to a question from Wearside Tory leader Robert Oliver on sickness rates in the Switch team.

Coun Oliver asked if there was a need for changes in light of the figures. There have been suggestions that some staff on the project are unhappy.

He added: “It is essential that the projects offered to employees in Switch are all suitable to engage the talents of the people working on them and that the length of time spent in Switch is kept to a minimum to avoid uncertainty.”

Coun Trueman said the council believed it had a “robust” scheme and changes would be made if deemed necessary.

Sunderland has won praise for its “groundbreaking” efforts to avoid redundancies at a time when other councils are shedding jobs – including Durham County Council, which plans to lose 1,600 employees.

Under the Switch – short for Staff Working in Transition and Change – programme, staff are pooled and assigned to priority areas until they are found new permanent posts.

The council said the scheme not only helped avoid the social impact of workers losing their jobs, but would also avoid steep bills for redundancy payments and lessen the economic impact on the city.