Kirklees councillor demands more clarity needed” on how to deal with coronavirus

Council chiefs in Kirklees have been urged to take proactive steps to advise staff and residents about the dangers of coronavirus.

By Tony Earnshaw - Local Democracy Reporter
Friday, 13th March 2020, 11:38 am
Updated Friday, 13th March 2020, 11:40 am

The plea comes as a positive case of COVID-19 has been identified in the borough.

Kirklees Council says it has been in regular contact with its thousands of workers, providing links to NHS advice via its official intranet.

It has also written to councillors with updates on the spread of the virus.

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Clinical support technician extracts viruses from swab samples so that the genetic structure of a virus can be analysed and identified in the coronavirus testing laboratory (Photo by Jane Barlow - WPA Pool/Getty Images)

But the authority has been pushed to reassure its thousands of employees that their sickness record and pay will not be affected if they need to stay home and self-isolate for 14 days.

Habiban Zaman, a Labour councillor for Batley East, said she worried that some council staff who experienced symptoms of coronavirus might not disclose it for fear of reaching a sickness absence trigger point.”

“It makes me nervous. I am very concerned about employees, especially those on the front line.

“If individuals have been sick for some time and then have to self-isolate it will hit their trigger. How will they react?

“People will be concerned and they will not disclose it. It’s a massive issue.”

Coun Zaman asked Council Leader Shabir Pandor to clarify what information had been put out to employees and some of the council’s partner agencies and, if a member of staff went off sick, would that 14-day period be part of their sick leave.

Speaking at a meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Management Committee (MAR 9) in Huddersfield Town Hall Clr Pandor said: “One of the things I would like to say about coronavirus is that it is a big issue but Public Health England are the agency that is responsible for working up the details and the plans on that.”

He added: “Every member of staff has been given very, very clear guidelines on that, in terms of how we can deal with individual cases.”

Coun Pandor was unable to provide clarity on sickness absence and trigger points.

Speaking after the meeting Coun Zaman commented: “It’s about the bigger picture for Kirklees employees. They need to know what they can do. If they have to stay in isolation how will it affect their sick record and their pay?

“My thinking was around the formulas that they use. I am an ex-council employee. If you’ve been sick for five days you hit a trigger.

“Then they start to scrutinise your sickness. There needs to be some clear guidance for employees. If they self-isolate for 14 days that should be a one-off sick leave. How will it affect their overall sickness record?”

The council’s director of public health, Rachel Spencer-Henshall, said the authority had been monitoring the spread of coronavirus “very closely” and had “all the right plans in place”.

She confirmed that absence relating to coronavirus “will not be treated as sickness”.

She added: “We have issued regular messages to staff over recent weeks through our intranet which – as well as general tips and advice – offer support to staff members who believe they might be at risk and information to help managers handle any issues they might face.

“We’ve published a number of videos and updates over recent weeks and will continue to do so. Messages are also being communicated to staff from their managers.

“We also have infection prevention and control nurses who are available to advise staff and managers if they are concerned.

“We have worked closely with health services and others across Kirklees and the region and have prepared as well as we possibly can to help keep our staff and residents as safe as possible.”

Coun Zaman argued that it was a managerial responsibility to advise staff about coronavirus and that staff should not have to find out details for themselves.

“Yes, it’s on the intranet, that’s fair enough. But some workers may not have access to it, such as care workers out in the fields or people doing highways maintenance.

“Should managers not be making people aware in team meetings? We need to be clear.”

In terms of the wider population she added: “How are the elderly or people who don’t have the language skills going to cope? They’re not going to go on the internet. We need to be a lot more proactive.

“What they are saying is that the information is coming out from NHS England – and the advice to people generally is that you stay inside – but everything is changing on a daily basis. I accept that. But in terms of the council we need to have that clarity.

“If people in the community are wanting information what are we saying to them?”