Managing Attendance and Wellbeing in HMRC

UPDATE 11/03/2011: ballot to commence 23/03/2011. More here.

Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs chose February 14th, Valentines Day, to spread a little love for their employees by introducing new Managing Attendance & Wellbeing procedures. This will be smashing news for our already over-stretched line managers and for any staff who have the misfortune to fall ill.

Spread the Love

Legally an employee can have up to seven days of self-certified sickness absence before requiring a Fit Note. Under the new Managing Attendance procedures five days absence within a twelve month period are now a trigger point (now named a ‘consideration point’, but a thorn is still a thorn by any other name.) Not only is this three days short of the self-certification period, it is also no longer than the amount of time taken to get over an average bout of ‘flu. It is also shorter than time taken for someone with influenza to stop being infectious. From the NHS site:

The infectious period

Symptoms develop one to four days (two days on average) after being infected.

People with flu are usually infectious (can spread the virus) a day before symptoms start, and remain infectious for five or six days. Children and people with weaker immune systems (such as cancer patients) may remain infectious for slightly longer.

Try to avoid all unnecessary contact with others during this infectious period.

Your symptoms will usually peak after two to three days. You should begin to feel much better within five to eight days.

So, by setting the first ‘reminder’ alert at five days the new Managing Attendance procedures are, albeit indirectly, encouraging a perception that people with ‘flu should return to work both before they are well and while they are still infectious.

It’s good to share.

People Survey

Anybody who works for HMRC should be well acquainted with management’s predisposition towards irony, knowing that any announcement about addressing a problem is likely to be followed by another which exacerbates it. On this occasion they don’t disappoint.

Just four days before the introduction of the Managing Attendance procedures Leslie Strathie, HMRC’s Chief Executive, had an item published on the HMRC intranet, ‘Improving Our People Survey Results.’ You see, HMRC have come bottom of all Civil Service departments for staff engagement. Why is this irony? Consider this statistic from Gallup, reproduced in the Civil Service People Survey itself:

Engaged employees in the UK take an average of 2.7 sick days per year, the disengaged 6.2 days (Gallup Research, 2003)

HMRC’s management have chosen to address a problem that is closely associated with low staff engagement by implementing an increasingly stringent sickness absence policy. It should be noted that this policy was introduced without the agreement of the unions.

Bear in mind that all this is happening at a time when HMRC has to shed thousands of jobs, and when deskilling and increased monitoring are making the working day increasingly unpleasant, leading to increased levels of stress and associated sick leave.

Dismissing people for their sick leave is a lot cheaper than making them redundant; making conditions so bad that they leave of their own accord is cheaper still.

The PCS R&C Group response to the Managing Attendence & Wellbeing is on their site here.

About: Dave Plummer

Public sector worker, PCS rep, Branch Organiser with PCS R&C Euston Tower Branch, and general branch communications person. Known to strum a guitar on occasion. Member of PCS Left Unity and the Green Party.

No comments posted yet

  1. anonymous says:

    The PCS have no bottle.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The PCS have no bottle. I was bullied out of the department. No help from my employer was given. I got sacked and PCS haven’t done a thing, even though I have medically recognised health issues. I have had to fight them, virtually alone. I still have not been able to speak to a PCS lawyer as I’ve been asking my rep for months. Why can’t a member get legal advice? Why do I have to go through a rep? This is a terrible system.

    If you had any guts you would call the ENTIRE civil service out for a month. All services down for a month would scare the hell out of the government. They would have to act. Just like they have in Egypt. Like they did during the petrol strikes some years back. This power is in the hands of ordinary people – if you choose to take it. One day strikes are of little use. Pull all the services in one fell-swoop for several weeks and let’s see who truly has power. The country would come to a stand-still, because many people do not realise the highly valuable work undertaken by the public sector.

    Yet you don’t do this and I wonder why? You allow them to shed jobs. You allow them to sack people indiscriminately to get numbers down. You allow draconian measures to be introduced and don’t do a thing. Until you take back your power, management will get away with whatever they wish.

    Take back your power. Or you’re life will be ruined like mine.


    • Dave P says:

      It would be inappropriate to comment on your case but, as a general principle, if you felt you weren’t being adequately represented by your rep you should be able to speak to your Branch Secretary or a full time officer from the group office. I’m sorry if you weren’t advised of this. If your case is still ongoing you should contact your Branch Secretary as soon as possible – there’s a list on the PCS website here

      Unfortunately the PCS legal advice number is, as you say, only for the use of reps. I’ve not looked in to the reasons but would imagine cost would be an issue if the service was opened out, as would repetitive queries.

      As for your wider points, there are differing opinions about the way to fight back. There will be motions at Conference this year suggesting taking solid weeks, maybe months, of action but that will only work with the support of members. Many just can’t afford to go a week, let alone a month, without pay. It would be very hard for the union to ask already low-paid families to do that. I know I can’t, and I’m a single bloke with no dependants!

      Ultimately we do have to do something though – I don’t think there’s any doubt that this Government, just like the one before them, are going to force us in to industrial action and I personally agree with you that one day strikes don’t achieve much. They’re little more than a protest. Coordinated action across the public sector unions, both strikes and cleverly targeted action short of strikes, could have an effect though.

      In some ways we’re in a strong position: the public is starting to realise how much they need public services and the Tax Gap argument is becoming more widely understood. This all helps build support for us and, crucially, puts pressure on MPs.

      Conditions in what’s left of HMRC are getting worse, and our ability to do the job the public pays us for is increasingly compromised as a result. We do have to fight back, both in the department and further afield. How we do that is a decision largely in the hands of the members.

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