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Thursday 21 September 2017

Seven HSE workers sacked for poor work-attendance records

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

SEVEN health service staff have been sacked in the past year due to persistent absenteeism, the Irish Independent has learned.

Two staff from the west of the country and five others from Dublin and the north east were shown the door by the HSE because of poor work-attendance records.

It comes as an Irish Independent investigation uncovers serious concerns among government officials about absenteeism levels in the public sector.

An analysis of new figures reveals staff in most government departments and agencies take more sick leave than private-sector workers.

The first official figures in four years lay bare the extent of absenteeism in the civil service -- showing it is above private- sector levels in 23 of 35 departments and bodies.

Staff in some government offices were off for an average of more than two weeks due to illness last year. This compares with just under eight days taken by private-sector workers.

The cost of sick leave across the 35,000-strong civil-service workforce now stands at over €45m a year.

Fears

The detailed analysis of absence rates was drawn up by the department in charge of public-sector reform amid fears the system is being abused.

Internal correspondence obtained by the Irish Independent shows a high level of concern among senior officials at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform about the gap in absenteeism between state and private-sector workers.

However, despite the concerns, the Irish Independent could find no evidence of sackings across the public sector, apart from those in the HSE.

Government departments and state agencies said there had been no sackings as a result of absenteeism. The situation remains unknown in local authorities, schools and universities as no centralised figures have been compiled.

The department is battling with unions to cut the amount it pays workers on sick leave after Minister for Public Expenditure Brendan Howlin vowed to review their entitlements.

It wants to slash the number of days that may be taken without a doctor's note from seven days a year to just three.

Department officials are also seeking to cut -- from six months to three -- the entitlement to full pay for those on certified leave.

A memo, marked confidential, sent to all departments says sick absence rates in the public service are "substantially" ahead of those in the private sector.

The email from Mr Howlin's department, released under Freedom of Information legislation, says as well as salary costs, there is a "significant productivity cost".

The memo is from the director of the civil service human resources division, Patricia Coleman.

In another document, officials say absenteeism "must be reduced" despite the fact that the public service has an older workforce, a higher percentage of female employees and actively recruits people with disabilities.

It says there is no hard evidence of a high level of abuse, but there is a "potential for abuse".

The document notes that the average percentage of working time lost ranged from 3pc to 6.6pc across the public sector.

This means that the average public-sector worker was absent for one in 20 working days due to illness. This compares with a 3.3pc rate in the private sector, or 7.7 lost days a year, according to the latest IBEC figures.

However, the updated figures, which have been compiled for the Public Accounts Committee, also show absenteeism at 12 offices is below the private sector average. They include Aras an Uachtarain, the State Laboratory and Mr Howlin's department.

Irish Independent

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