COUNCIL workers in Oxford remain the county’s “sick men” despite improvements in attendance, it emerged last night.

On average, Oxford City Council staff had 9.15 days off ill last year, which is almost two weeks each.

It is down from 10.71 days the year before and means the council has met its 10 day target for the first time.

Staff at the council’s City Works department, which includes bin men and maintenance teams, were the worst performers, taking an average of three weeks off each.

Customer Services staff, who deal with residents’ queries on council tax and housing, also performed poorly, with an average of 12.75 days sick.

Sickness rates have increased in both departments.

The council has had a long-running battle with high sickness rates.

Simon Howick, head of human resources, said he was pleased with achieving the overall target and said he hoped to drive the figure down further. But he added: “We are different to other authorities and have lots of staff in manual jobs.”

Mr Howick, who has headed the HR team for two and-a-half years, said improved occupational health services, such as referrals to counselling and physiotherapy had helped improve attendance.

He added sickness trends were also monitored and staff challenged about patterns. He said: “We have triggers. If people have too many spells of short term sickness there will be a review meeting and we will challenge them on their attendance.

“We are going through tough times in local government and the vast majority of staff are committed and work hard. Of course, there’s a minority who try to take a different approach but people know we are serious.”

Council staff get 32 days holiday per year.

Mr Howick said rising sickness rates within City Works and Customer Services was a cause for concern and the root cause was being identified.

He said: “It is too high. With City Works we are doing more health surveys and with Customer Services we’re making sure there are no underlying issues such as workloads.”

Sickness rates at Cherwell District Council were 7.15 days. At South Oxfordshire District Council it was 6.79 days, at West Oxfordshire it was 6.74 days and at Vale of White Horse it was 6.08 days.

Only Cherwell and Oxford City Council have in-house collections for household waste.

Oxfordshire County Council’s rate was 6.59. There is no national average figure recorded.