Staff members at Tayside Contracts -- the trading arm of Dundee, Angus, and Perth and Kinross Councils -- received letters from managing director Ian Waddell before Christmas telling them that if the absentee rate remains above 2.1 per cent, equivalent to six days a year, then they could be dismissed.
The letter informs workers that if their absentee rates do not improve they will be sent a second warning letter and then if there is still no improvement they will be dismissed.
Mr Waddell said the letters were part of the company’s standard way of managing staff absences and improving attendance levels.
He said: “In 2014 we had discussion with the unions about how we manage sickness absences.
“One of the things that came out of that was that some people were falling through the cracks with absences, so if someone is absent on three occasions in a year or six days we look at the reasons of their absences and then go through a process to improve attendance levels.”
Mr Waddell said staff absences through illness were “a considerable cost” to Tayside Contracts, and so reducing rates of absenteeism was vital.
He stressed there was no plan to use absenteeism to reduce staffing levels, and that people who might be off for an extended period of time due to a serious illness or injury had nothing to fear.
He said: “We look at their lifetime average for attendance, so that works for staff if they have been here for a long period of time.
“If they have had a long absence their average is not that greatly affected.”
The letter has caused a major row.
One employee who contacted a local newspaper said: “ I know of three people who have received letters. It looks like a fly way of getting rid of people without having to pay redundancy.”
But a Perth and Kinross resident and council taxpayer said: “Don’t name me, because I don’t want rubbish scattered down my drive, but everyone knows the public sector is a soft touch for people who want to go through their working lives giving less than 110 per cent.
“This so-called crackdown just brings them into line with people in the private sector and small businesses.”
However, trade union official Jim McFarlane of Unison said: “We would have concerns about anyone who was feeling threatened and would be looking for the employer to put support in place.”
Last month [JAN] Mr Waddell warned that his organisation might have to consider voluntary redundancies because of cuts to council budgets. Although Tayside Contracts is an arm’s-length organisation, cuts could lead to councils cutting back on work that would normally go to Tayside Contracts.
MrWaddell said council savings could lead to job losses,, although these would be achieved through voluntary rather than compulsory redundancy.
Tayside Contracts employs approximately 2500 people operating out of in excess of 300 bases, providing catering, cleaning, roads maintenance, vehicle maintenance and winter maintenance throughout the Tayside region.