back to article Welsh council rapped for covert spying on sick leave worker

A council that ordered covert surveillance of a sick employee has been ordered to review its practices following an investigation by data privacy watchdogs. An Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) investigation found that Caerphilly Council breached the Data Protection Act when it ordered the surveillance of an employee …

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Re: Have to agree with you

Civil Service

6 months sick leave, return for 6 weeks resets the clock, another 6 months

Also they get paid full overtime, on the basis that, even though there was no overtime, if there had been they would have done the work anyway

My partner works for the local Constabulary, as support staff. Her sickness policy states that three instances of sickness in a 12 month period starts a stage 1 disciplinary procedure. This includes single days. She is prone to serious sinus infections, so this presents a problem, and causes a lot of stress for her.

She previously worked for the courts (i.e. Civil Service), where the policy was similar, and for a charity that supports victims of crime. Their policy was even more draconian.

I call bullshit.

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Anonymous Coward

In every job I have experienced, including civil service, one can have just a couple of days off without a medical certificate. I imagine that the employee had seen a medical practitioner and presented the certificate. One has to assume that the medical professional is at least as competent and honest as the manager.

Of course, it is quite possible for the idle manager to visit the employee or to telephone them or arrange a meeting on their return.

The sort of management that resorts to such practices is the sort repsonsible for poorly motivated employees and inaduate work in the first place.

By the way, why this jealousy and dislike of civil servants? I should say that running public services, such as roads, rubbish collection, planning laws, schools, libraries, social services is indisputably more important than working on a computer to smooth the sales of computer games or rubber ducks or whatever you, in your private business employment, do. So I want the best, well motivated people doing it. If you think it is such an easy job for such wonderful rewards, get a job in that area and stick at it in the face of denigration from people such as yourself. But I assume that, really, you know the job is not so easy or well rewarded, so you stay away.

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(@ Loyal Commenter)

Well, there seems to be two -as of now- NHS's "HR bods" reading this thread, hence the downvotes :-).

I've several friends and clients working for the Spanish equivalent of the NHS. From the histories they tell, your comment is totally spot on. In the best of times it's a really stressing job, involving all the factors you listed and then some more -e.g. 'departmental politics' and backstabbing.

During the height of the last financial crisis, the staff working hours were raised a lot, causing lots and lots of stress-related leaves. In those cases, the management -usually politicians, in the topmost levels- resorted to tactics that can only be described as bullying against the workers on leave, further worsening the issue. Several of those cases are in the courts right now.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Have to agree with you @AC

Here in the US we have similar issues with "Public Sector" employees. Way more benefits than the private sector and no appreciable oversight is a recipe for abuse.

Some school district employees in Buffalo even got elective cosmetic surgery benefits (Breast enlargement) and the taxpayer had to pay for it.

Private sector sick benefits are almost non-existent unless federally mandated so there is a huge disparity.

However, surveilling ones home without a warrant (private or public entities) has been determined to be a violation of the right to privacy and the Fourth Amendment and any info is inadmissible in court. The determination should apply to alot of cases.

See EFF link; https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/12/federal-court-agrees-eff-throws-out-six-weeks-warrantless-video-surveillance

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Anonymous Coward

Ah, the idea that it is more noble to be a public employee than a private one.

Who do you think generates the money for the public sector employees to get paid?

Yes, there are public services that generate income, but on the whole that is not their raison d'etre. And nor should it be. But if there's no private sector employees generating wealth and paying taxes there's no money to pay the public sector employees.

So, yes, "working on a computer to smooth the sales of computer games or rubber ducks or whatever you do" is absolutely as important as being a doctor or policeman or fireman. Not more, but certainly not less.

OK, we could move to a system where there *is* only public sector work, but that formula appears to be pretty much discredited globally.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Have to agree with you@ Loyal Commenter

"Her sickness policy states that three instances of sickness in a 12 month period starts a stage 1 disciplinary procedure. "

Likewise my wife in the NHS. But they don't do anything ultimately as part of the process, or they do so very selectively. So it's effective at harassing the genuinely ill, and scaring the weak willed potential sicky-ist but totally ineffective against the hardened dossers.

I've worked in both public and private sectors, and the public sector are long on policies that they selective enforce or ignore, and completely oblivious to sacking the useless and encouraging the dedicated.

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Anonymous Coward

Re:

I agree also consider that for some people we really taking life and death situation. If you are treating people with immune deficiency issues for example your threshold for coming to work with a cold might be a little different than the average office worker.

Sad to say HR systems in the NHS don't always seem to recognise this, I recall that at one point they complained that almost all the staff in an ICU had above average sick leave.

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Rose tinted spectacles

If you want the best, well motivated people working for local authorities then the first step would probably be to sack around 90% of the long serving incumbents and replace them with competent, well trained people.

Once you see from the inside just how badly local authorities are run, the waste, the corruption and the inept nature of the people you will understand why so many council and local government projects fail dismally, go over budget or get quietly scrapped.

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Hmmn medical angels with stress, well I know one who had attended an accident crush damage and the poor guys face was so mashed they couldn't intubate. Another one they had a young lad in who had tried to hang himself didn't manage it but caused so much damage that he died later, they had to explain to the parents it was to late. They have never mentioned the things they have to deal with when its a really young kids but I know its hard on them.

Try having a word with some of those angels and what they deal with, frankly stress is not surprising some of their stories I think would leave me curled up in a ball crying.

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Anonymous Coward

@ AC - What's to dislike about civil servants?

How long have you got?

- They are a monopoly provider, they have no concept of competition, providing value for money, continuous improvement, customer satisfaction or any of the things a competitive business would strive for.

- They have no idea about efficiency

- They waste money at the end of each financial year just to maintain next year's budget

- They just get more money when they fail

- They are rewarded for failure

- They don't appear to accountable

- Their attitude stinks (eg DVLA)

- They think they are always right

- Many are jobsworths. For many it's just a job. For some, their job is to justify their existence

- They appear to be ethically challenged eg covering up evidence of negligence, criminality, abuse etc whenever the ends justifies the means

Did I miss anything out?

Yes Minister was funny in its day - not quite so funny when it's taxpayers money at stake. YM was apparently a documentary.

Public service - they've heard of it. Putting customers first :/

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Have to agree with you @AC

In what way do you think US federal law has any jurisdiction over what happens in Wales? Or have I missed the announcement of Wales becoming the 51st state of the Union!!

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Re: Have to agree with you

That might be the norm in CS HR depts, however... for those "at the coalface"

Days 1-5 require a daily "sick call" to be made to the office, after day 5 a Doctors certification is required, and calls then become weekly from line manager to employee - regardless of the certification, this even happens when surgery is involved with a "known" recovery time.

After 4 weeks a face to face interview takes place, at which point the Dept has the option to refer employee to their internal contractors for examination.

After 8 days continuous sickness or 2 instances of any length (even 2 single days) within 12 months it becomes disciplinary matter, which kicks in a 12 month "attendance monitoring" which will lead to further processes if health continues to be an issue - like when the office hero comes in with a nasty virus and spreads it to all their colleagues - who in turn spread it to their families. As the partner of a civil servant working under this regime I get so sick and tired of hearing people droning on about things that they clearly have ZERO knowledge about or generalising about the good deals that a tiny minority may enjoy.

Employers do NOT own you and surveillance of this nature should be a last result for most extreme cases. This over-reaction seems to be a complete waste of the public funding that people have been wittering on about here. The sad thing is that when councilors and local authority executives are caught making whoopee with public funds there are few consequences beyond a golden handshake - see Pembrokeshire and Carmarthenshire - 2 neighbouring Welsh councils with similar issues.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Have to agree with you

Maybe 20 years ago.... Not now... not today. You clearly have NO first hand knowledge.

Its funny how many seem to be experts on non existent "perks" available in both the civil service and the Railway Industry. Must be all that time sitting in the office drinking coffee and reading the rantings of the Daily Fail - another bunch who need to get a clue about reality - but hey the truth is nowhere near as sensational is it?

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Have to agree with you @AC

The issues you relate to are not in play in the UK. Employment law sees rights and protections chipped away year on year. The 2 systems are not comparable anyhow, we have certain rights and entitlements (again being stolen from us by administrative measures) predicated on payments in addition to income tax which for most are deducted at source. The average civil service employee here has no access to the sort of insurances you talk of - unless they pay for them privately.

Your Bill of Rights protections do not apply outside the US so again are not relevant here, For us - without a historic piece of legislation to offer protection - this is covered under our data protection laws and could also see a successful case in the ECHR as at this level it can probably be shown to be grossly disproportionate and an invasion of the right to privacy in family life

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Re: Have to agree with you

Oh really? and how long ago was ' in the past', please do reacquaint yourself into the modern civil service.

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Re: Have to agree with you

Yep? the modern civil service at its caring best....

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I'd expect my private company to expect a sick note (or nowadays a fitness for work note) detailing from a doctor that in the doctors expert medical opinion the employee needs to be signed off for whatever reason. Once they have that note I'd expect them to either trust that doctors note, or if they have doubts (and as most contracts explicitly allow) request a second opinion paid for by the company. That is the correct process to investigating suspect sickness leave. Jumping to intrusive (and presumably expensive) surveillance within 4 weeks certainly isn't the correct appoach. More advanced employees may would instead spend that money on looking at what it is in their processes and workplace that is causing the stress and/or providing counselling/stress management resources to the employee to help them cope.

Certainly I strongly doubt public and private companies differ greatly in how they handle stress and other long term sickness - though from personal experiences I know the stress placed on public employees is often much higher and there seems to be (on average, etc etc) less capable managers.

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You would expect wrong

You'd be wrong on the first of those assumptions in the UK.

You can self-certify for the first 7 days of an illness and the company can do nothing to force you to get a note from a doctor. In fact most doctors these days will refuse to give you one.

https://www.gov.uk/taking-sick-leave

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Long time off

I worked for the US government. If you were off for more than 3 days you were supposed to get a note from a doctor. But sometimes I would be off for a whole week if I was horribly sick and never had a note.

You could accumulate sick leave. I was under the old retirement system, where saved up sick leave could count for your length of service. So I tried to use sick leave as sparingly as possible. When I retired, I had almost 1 1/2 years of sick leave saved up.

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I hate to be harsh, but there's something I've noticed. Now, I have had less than four weeks off sick in total over my entire career, spanning more than fifteen years. I have also never heard of any colleague of mine taking excessive amounts of time off for anything other than the C word. Certainly not for "Stress". Mind you, I've only ever worked in the private sector.

So what is it about life in the public sector that makes it making it so much more "stressful" ?

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Anonymous Coward

So what is it about life in the public sector that makes it making it so much more "stressful"

impossible targets! :)

...as if they were any different to impossible targets set to employees of private companies outsourced by public sector to meet those targets...

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Anonymous Coward

You've hardly worked long enough

So your in your early 30's.

Wait another ten years when your employers think your too old and should be put on the scrap heap (when you probably have a mortgage and family support) then you'll know what stress is.

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Anonymous Coward

http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/lmac/sickness-absence-in-the-labour-market/2014/rpt---sickness-absence-in-the-labour-market.html

The above ONS link should explain some of the differences between public and private sector sick rates. For example more women employed in the public sector, age of staff etc.

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Anonymous Coward

"So what is it about life in the public sector that makes it making it so much more "stressful" ?"

Not having gilt-edged pensions? Maybe not.

Not having 7 weeks annual paid leave? Again, maybe not.

Having spent a brief period (2 months) working for a council the thing I really noticed was the huge beaurocracy and lack of efficiency in everything they do. A private company making every process so drawn out would be bust within weeks.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: You've hardly worked long enough

Perhaps the £80/month of taxpayers' money for your first child will help reduce the stress?

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I have had less than four weeks off sick in total over my entire career, spanning more than fifteen years. I have also never heard of any colleague of mine taking excessive amounts of time off for anything other than the C word. Certainly not for "Stress".

Then you are lucky enough to not have been bullied by your manager/employer.

I've been in my current job for over 8 years and not had a day off sick. In my previous job, I was signed off sick with stress and anxiety and put on antidepressants. This was not due to me being a workshy layabout, but due to a systematic bullying and victimisation by my line manager.

I managed to leave, and find a better job, where I am treated as a human (to some extent).

Employers have a duty to their Employees beyond simply paying them a wage. They should not give them an excessive workload, or make them work in unreasonable conditions, and they should not bully or belittle them. I suspect this is what has caused the stress-related illness of this particular council employee.

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@Heisenberg

Heisenberg,

that is nice for you, as you state that you haven't worked in the public sector (in my opinion, only half in jest that can be an oxymoron anyway), I wonder how well qualified you are to speak about working in the public sector.

One has had the 'good fortune' to have worked in both camps at various points...

J

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"I have had less than four weeks off sick in total over my entire career..."

Thanks 'Loyal Commentator', your post actually triggered a memory from the early days when I had a total w@nker of a boss, he was such an ar$e that after a couple of months I thought to myself I'm not putting up with this sh1t and handed my notice in. I guess I was lucky enough that at the time I had no dependants or financial obligations so didn't have to give much thought to it at all.

Were I in such a situation now it might be very different and I can imagine if the option to just leave was not there then life would quickly become an unbearable living hell...

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Anonymous Coward

What is this strange obsession with sick leave???

So nothing bad has happened to you? Good luck to you! But it's just luck. I've had time off because of measles, German measles, chickenpox, broken bones, epilepsy, etc. - does that make me a "worse" employee than you???

I have recently seen CVs from people boasting how little sick leave they've taken ... do you know what I think when I see that - jobsworth!!! I care about what you can deliver, just showing up at work is not an achievement.

Next you'll be on about all those people who get to take more bereavement leave than you ...

END RANT

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"I have also never heard of any colleague of mine taking excessive amounts of time off for anything other than the C word."

It took me a while to realize you meant cancer, and not that your colleagues were cunts.

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Coat

More thought required

Sounds like they should have considered the implications of their spying more Caerphilly.

(I have already got my coat and am on my way out)

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Coat

Re: ... more Caerphilly

You and your cheesy jokes.

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Re: More thought required

One might say they welshed on their duty to their employees.

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Anonymous Coward

Re: More thought required

Your racist usage is not welcomed, neither is the upvotes you've gathered. Readers might care to view other stories of how the ruling execs at Caerffili council have managed to pay themselves wage increases way above inflation over the past few years, all under the "watchful eye" of a "socialist Labour" council.

Caerphilly council (labour) mottos :

"Don't do as I do, do as I say...."

"Don't rock the boat, boys, we're in power..."

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Anonymous Coward

Makes a change from them using snooping and terrorism laws to spy on people not clearing up their dog mess.

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Anonymous Coward

Plus ca change

I temped at Camden Council during school holidays in the early 90s, entering a vast backlog of employee timesheets into a new (but already obsolete) system. My professional IT debut, but I digress.

On my first day, perhaps to pep me up, or perhaps to explain why I was about to become so familiar with the S button, I was told how Camden Council had the most generous sick leave of any employer in the land. It was sincerely explained to me how essential this was, because of the very large number of days that Camden Council workers needed to take off sick.

Same shit, different day.

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What You Are All Missing.

What you seem to be missing on this one is the fact that this kind of carry on is endemic within Caerphilly council and that year on year they get their wrists slapped.

It is probably not even a sinister attempt at surveillance legal or otherwise of an employee, it is probably down to basic corruption and back handers. By giving these company nice juicy contracts for security and surveillance, the higher ups are fleecing the nest for the future when they can slip across to the private sector on tracks greased by public money.

Caerphilly Council = corruption in my book, see below:

http://www.socialistpartywales.org.uk/news175.shtml

http://www.walesonline.co.uk/news/wales-news/concerns-raised-over-procedures-used-5391869

Etc. etc.

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The employee had only been off work with a sick note for anxiety and stress

To all the people who think meh "stress", ask yourselves, if this is an indication of how they value (and trust) their staff, what do you think it's like working for them?

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Trollface

seeing as "stress" and "anxiety" are imaginary illnesses made up by those whose upper lips arnt stiff enough , I have hard time working out how the detective would find any evidence?

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Nice choice of icon there Joey.

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FAIL

@Joey M0usepad - f'wit in residence

Joey,

you can fuck right off...

So I have been imagining my life falling apart over the last four years, silly me.

For further info, feel free to read/ignore/dismiss haughtily my posts on El Reg.

If you have kids you may want to research alternate techniques to the 'stiff upper lip' when they need or ask for help (assuming they will bother asking you at all that is...)

I hope you and yours never have to deal with serious mental illness, because if you do, and things get really tough, someone may end up homeless and then living in a cardboard box.

/Rant over

J

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Re: @Joey M0usepad - f'wit in residence

Whilst the troll has obviously eaten well just before Christmas he has a point (of sorts)

It is very difficult to tell if someone is suffering from anxiety or stress by reading their facebook status, and likewise meeting them in the street.

Mental illness isn't like a broken leg or botched boob job. It doesn't have a visual indicator normally. So yeah, the whole hiring of a PI is a pretty useless exercise.

Sorry to hear you have bouts of stress fruitoftheloon, I know that shits real and not many you tell will ever come close to understanding. I wish you good days, fuck the retards!

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@ukgnome Re: @Joey M0usepad - f'wit in residence

Ukgnome/Joey,

Chap(s?),

Thank you for your considered reply/statements, one is (regretably) sometimes a little over-sensitive when in the midst of folk that seem to think that mental illness is something that could or should be dealt with in a 'light' fashion. Granted it is not easy for a layman to diagnose mental illness, the pros can do it though.

In hindsight I think my response was a little over-exhuberant...

For disclosure purposes, i have been claiming esa benefit since dec 2013, i sent my 'what can you do/not do' questionnaire to ATOS (as in they don't give one) in March, now just as benefit is about to run out (you only get it for 12 months initially as Atos are meant to have completed your assesment within that period) after I nag Atos on the phone I get an appointment within 3 weeks.

And of course I can't carry on claiming esa as I should have had my assesment by then which would state what the longer benefit option is...

Isn't this fun?

J

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Joke

Suspicious behaviour

I expect suspicions were aroused when he changed his login password from "Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwyll-llantysiliogogogoch" to "correcthorsebatterystaple"

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Anonymous Coward

All of the private companies I have worked for in the UK have had a fairly simple policy on sick leave; get a medical certificate (after the first few days) and you're covered on full pay for as long as the certificate lasts / is renewed.

The actual mechanics are that the company gets a contribution from the government for the first 6 months or so, after which the company invokes insurance covering their workforce for absences due to ill health lasting longer than that. I suspect there may be a legally negotiated exit after ~18 months if there is no prospect of a return to work,

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Anonymous Coward

I can't believe

I've read all these comments, and haven't seen one by any of those people who say, 'If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear' saying, 'well, this has made me think again'.

No one is safe.

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Nice to see that the STASI

is alive and well in wales

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Silver badge

Bah!

"I've never taken a sick day since I started here. Everyone around me goes off sick several times a year, but not me."

Delivered obliviously, in a nasal voice thick with phlegm.

And Typhoid Nigel he thinks he *saves* the place money with his "attend at all costs" policy.

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Re: Bah!

I remember when i had Man Flu at my last job, the IT Director told me to stay at home and rest for as long as it took, but would i mind the occasional call if needed, of course i said that'd be fine, cue 5 days of working from my sick bed, attending conference calls and working as normal. Similar thing happened the other week, the week before 2 guys from my office where out with flu,the following week i was covering a US shift in the UK from home and was ill too, working certainly beats daytime drivel TV. Did the same when i was recovering from knee surgery, used the sick leave to catch up on things i couldn't when in the office, ensured i was ahead of the curve when i came back, my public sector colleagues where outraged when they found out, just didn't tell them when i had my second & third knee ops.

All said and done, if you need to take a cerebral brake then do so, its better to be rested and fit for work than out of sorts and tired. a career change or brake can often help too. Its important to find a role that ticks your boxes & that should ultimately tick the employers boxes

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