Bombshell report lays bare the impact of the pandemic on local government workers

By Rory Murphy

West Dunbartonshire and Argyll and Bute’s local government workers have revealed the enormous toll on their health as they’ve worked to keep services running, according to a survey published today by their trade union, UNISON.

The findings are based on responses from more than 12,000 local government workers across Scotland, including care workers; school support staff; early years workers; social workers and housing staff among others.

More than eight in ten (82%) reported an increase in stress – with almost half (44%) saying the increase was substantial. Six in ten reported an increase in workload and more than a third (34%) said they had lost annual leave due as a result of not being able to take leave due to pressure of work and not being able to carry it forward into the next leave year.

Almost a third (27%) said they had sought medical assistance due to the impact this past year has had on their mental health.

UNISON, Scotland’s largest local government trade union, said the findings should be a stark wake-up call, requiring immediate intervention, to all local authorities across the country.

Other findings included:

Four in ten said there had been no change in the level of support provided to them by their employer compared to pre-Covid, with just over a quarter (26%) reporting a reduction in the level of support provided by their employer.

Forty-five per cent reported having adapted to working from home or carrying out alternative duties to assist with the pandemic response

One in ten said they had contracted Covid with 22% of these workers stating they had been diagnosed with Long Covid.

Just under a fifth (17%) had suffered a bereavement as a result of Covid, with the majority of these workers (81%) saying they took no time off work to deal with this and 72% saying they received no support from their employer.

Johanna Baxter, UNISON Scotland’s head of local government, said: “With almost a third of workers reporting that they have had to seek medical assistance because of the impact of the past year on their mental health these findings should be deeply troubling for local authorities across Scotland.

“This report lays bare the enormous sacrifices these workers have made to keep our services going – forgoing their own annual leave, coming into work even when they have suffered bereavements themselves and adapting to changes in the workplace and their own roles.

“Urgent action is needed right now to support these frontline workers and provide them with the reward and recognition that they deserve.”

Mark Ferguson, chair of UNISON Scotland’s Local Government Committee, said: “We know that our members have been going above and beyond to keep our local services running during the pandemic but this report shows the impact this past year has had on their health.

“COSLA and the Scottish Government have frequently praised their efforts but it is clear that more needs to be done to support our members and to recognise their efforts through their pay and reward.”

The findings are based on results from 12,077 UNISON members from all job roles and every local authority across Scotland. (This represents 15% of UNISON’s membership in Scottish Local Government.)  The survey was conducted between March 26 and April 13, 2021.

You can read the full survey report – One Year of Covid – here: https://www.unison-scotland.org/wp-content/uploads/LG-One-Yr-of-Covid-Survey-Report-April21-1.pdf

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