Letters to staff in the past two months detail changes to the mental health service provider’s sick pay plans, due to come into operation in September. Under the new system, nurses will receive no pay for the first three days of sickness absence.
Previous sickness pay arrangements were broadly in line with Agenda for Change.
An initial letter, sent by company chief executive Philip Scott in May, stated that the provider is making the changes because it is experiencing sickness rates of up to 10% at some of its sites, compared with 5% in the NHS.
A second letter, sent by Mr Scott at the beginning of last month, cited the credit crunch as a further reason for the changes.
This letter said that the company lost £66m last year and that sickness absence was costing it £8m per year.
‘Sickness absence levels have increased considerably over the last few years and, as a consequence, the current company scheme is simply not affordable,’ he said.
‘Deciding to change the sick pay scheme was to principally target the casual abusers.’
Further correspondence has revealed details of a 2% pay increase and a decision to abandon a scheme that financially rewards high-performing employees.
A nurse who works for the company, who did not want to be named, said: ‘We have been treated very badly. Management have not negotiated with us – at the end of the day this is bullying.’
Karen Didovich, RCN senior employment relations adviser, said: ‘We have had quite a few calls – it has been unprecedented in terms of a decision involving a single employer. A lot of our members are distraught, quite upset and angry – people who have never taken sickness leave. We may need to look at legal action.’
A spokesperson for the Priory Group reiterated the argument that the changes had been implemented to remove the ‘element of casual abuse’ from the sickness absence system.