THE Government has been accused of a "ham-fisted" approach after it postponed the halving of sick pay leave for 290,000 public servants at the last minute.
The changes for teachers, gardai and nurses have been on the cards for the last 18 months and were due to come into effect on January 1. But the changes have now been put back by three months to March due to the need to bring the necessary rules before the Dail.
The Government is hoping the changes will cut the €500m annual bill for sick leave across the public service. Public Expenditure Minister Brendan Howlin insisted that he was only delaying the changes in the interests of transparency because he needed time to bring the required regulations before the Dail.
He said that action had to be taken to deal with the level of sick leave in the public sector.
"Bluntly, as I have said repeatedly, the volume of sick leave in the public service is not sustainable. It is costing €500m this year," he said.
Under the new law, the right of public sector workers on sick leave to six months' full-pay every four years will be cut to three months on full pay. Their right to half-pay on sick leave will be cut from six months to three months. The changes will also apply to workers in semi-state companies such as the ESB and An Post.
The highest bill for sick leave is among the 100,000 workers in the HSE, where the cost was €223m last year. The sick leave cost among teachers was €61m, followed by the local Government sector at €47m.
Mr Howlin said the changes will come into effect for teachers next September, due to the fact that this is when the new school year starts.