Forsa is engaged in negotiations with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) on the introduction of an absenteeism policy for civil servants, which controversially, encompasses all absences including legitimate certified sick leave.
As part of a new policy, the Government wants to introduce attendance management plans that will allow for the possibility of warnings that equate with warnings under the disciplinary code. This is the same approach adopted with performance improvement plans (PIPs), which unions previously resisted, all the way to arbitration.
Although unions lost the decision at arbitration, Fórsa maintains that it was a mistake, as it turned a performance improvement process into a disciplinary process that could quickly lead to dismissal.
This approach did not lead to effective performance management. Neither will a similar approach to absenteeism management.
Fórsa has said it will resist any policy that attempts to place legitimate sick leave in the same category as habitual attendance problems. Management’s failure to deal with the latter problem over the years has led us to this latest proposition, which would seek to introduce a one-size-fits-all approach to absences including legitimate sick leave.
No policy will replace the effective management of hard cases, and the use of good discretion by a manager in handing difficult cases where frequent absences become a feature for staff with previous unblemished records. There is often an underlying cause in such cases, which needs to be surfaced and which is not appropriate to a so-called management attendance policy.
A ‘zero-tolerance’ approach to absences that includes legitimate sick leave would fly in the face of equality legislation and other safeguards, which have rightfully been put there to protect staff with legitimate difficulties.
Fórsa recently stopped the use of arbitrary attendance management tools, namely the so-called ‘Bradford factor,’ which applies a mathematical formula to short term absences to rate staff and possibly discipline them.
The current discussions will also deal with how absences are assessed for the purposes of access to promotion, and the award of increments.
Fórsa has made clear its opposition to the establishment of a direct relationship between the rate of legitimate sick leave and the awarding of increments. But departments are already doing this, often in an arbitrary fashion.
This is something we intend to address in the context of an overall agreement. Meanwhile, negotiations are ongoing.