Thursday 20 July 2017

Public sector absenteeism is an outrage

THE Tuesday after a bank holiday is never a happy time for workers, as they drag themselves, maybe a little the worse for wear, into the start of the working week. This week, after the long Easter weekend and all that goes with making up for the pubs' ' black day' on Good Friday, will have been worse still for those taxpaying workers who had read a report in the Sunday Business Post on absenteeism levels in the HSE.

The newspaper reported on new HSE figures which show absenteeism levels due to sick leave running at over 10 per cent among certain staff sectors in a whole list of hospitals. That's enough to make those who don't have the comfort of working for the State feel just a little more sick as they bravely nurse sore heads and get on with the job in offices, restaurants, factories and other such places of work where the reality of recession is all too real.

Throughout the public health service generally, the level of absenteeism is running at five per cent, according to the HSE report. In the private sector, the level of absenteeism stands at just 2.5 per cent.

Could it be that health service workers are more prone to illness? Apparently not, because the same HSE report shows that its absenteeism levels have fallen from an average of seven per cent over the past few years. This isn't because the workers have become healthier – it's simply because the HSE has been taking a tougher line with staff calling in sick. Obviously, the HSE still has a long way to go. The health service isn't alone though. The sick leave phenomenon afflicts the entire public service. Clearly, the single common factor among all those State workers who have an extraordinary propensity for falling ill is that they are paid, not by vigilant employers, but by the taxpayers of the nation. This is to say, by the people who do drag themselves into work on the Tuesday after a bank holiday because their job is important to them, because they don't want to let down their colleagues, or simply because they have a boss who doesn't tolerate people skiving off.

It is well established and, Gold help us, somehow tolerated that there is a culture in the public service of workers taking sick leave, not because they are sick, but as an entitlement. At the best of times this was unacceptable. Now, in the worst of times, when ordinary workers are being bled dry by taxes and tariffs, it has gone beyond a joke. It is an outrage.

A recent practice of the Department of Social Protection is to bring people who are on the dole in for a sort of ' career guidance' day where they are told to buck up their efforts to get a job or get educated. Notably, they are reminded that the State has to borrow the money to pay for their dole.

It would seem that the lectures reserved for the unemployed could usefully be extended to State employees in the HSE, local authorities and elsewhere. They need to be reminded that the State is also borrowing to pay their wages. Given the current state of the nation, a little more equality of effort is called for; hiding in the shelter of the Croke Park Agreement is more than not an option, it's not moral in the times we live in.

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