SOUTHEND Council is set to halve the amount of sick pay given to its staff in a cost-cutting move described as “stomach churning” by a union.

Council employees will have sick pay cut from six months’ full pay and six months’ half pay to three months’ full pay and three months’ half pay under budget-saving proposals set to be agreed by cabinet next week.

It is estimated this will save £250,000 this year. In addition, staff will be able to “buy” up to ten additional days’ holiday a year subject to agreement by managers to save the council an extra£150,000.

Alex Porter, Unison’s head of local government eastern region, said: “Councils across the country are facing massive financial challenges after nearly a decade of underfunding from central government.

“But it’s stomach-churning that Southend wants to go into the pockets of its sick workers or vulnerable dementia patients to pay for their shortfalls.

“We know it’ll have next to no effect on the council’s financial woes, while causing real misery for unwell staff. Bosses need to scrap these plans.”

Tony Cox, leader of the council, said: “It’s happening industry wide. Six months’ sick pay seems to be out of kilter with a lot of local government terms and conditions.

“There are supporting networks there for staff if they are off long-term sick and part of the support package is helping them back to work on a case-by-case basis.

“We are introducing a scheme where staff can buy holidays. If I have say 28 days a year leave, I can buy another week’s holiday and take it off my salary and it’s not tax deductible. You are not taking it off after tax but taking it off pre-tax.”

Daniel Cowan, leader of the Labour Group, said: “I think this is cruel and callous proposal from the administration. They are trying to tap into the negativity of some of the culture wars, the incorrect characterisations of public sector workers as being lazy or feckless and therefore deserving of having their benefits cut.

“This is not going to result in any substantial savings at all. Ultimately, the only people affected by this are those that are off sick long term for legitimate purposes so this is something that’s possibly going to affect people who are having treatment for cancer or long-term medical conditions.”