Social welfare staff taking almost two weeks sick leave a year on average
The Government department that pays out social welfare benefits has one of the highest sick-leave rates in the civil service.
Only the Prison Service, whose staff are often assaulted, has a higher level of people taking sick days than the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection.
The average sick leave in the Department of Social Protection works out at almost two weeks a year, the Public Accounts Committee was told.
Department general secretary John McKeon defended the high rate of sick leave, saying his department has a large number of older workers.
Sinn Féin TD David Cullinane said figures provided to the committee showed an average full-time equivalent of 13 days being taken on average for staff due to illness.
He said it was the second highest illness absence rate in the civil service.
It compares with a rate of 15.7 full day equivalents in the Prison Service, but just 3.5 days in the Department of the Taoiseach.
Mr Cullinane said there was no question that workers were not entitled to take time off if they are ill, but he said it was not acceptable that the sick rate was so high in the Department of Social Protection, and the way it was classified was not clear.
“The Prison Service has a rate of 15.7 days. That reflects the nature of the job, people get assaulted. But it is 13 days in Social Protection, which is the next highest,” Mr Cullinane said.
He called for more information to be provided to the committee to clarify the reasons for the high levels of staff taking sick days.
Mr McKeon said the issue was a concern to his department.
“It is an issue of concern to us. We are conscious of the management of sick leave and rigorously monitor it,” he told the TDs and senators.
He said the age profile, gender and grade mix in the department were factors explaining the levels of sick leave.
Just 150 staff are under the age of 30, but 3,000 are over the age of 55. He said 12 staff died in service last year.
Some 630 staff are over the age of 60.
The rates of sick leave “were a reflection of the age of the staff”, Mr McKeon said.
The gender mix, and maternity leave, may explain some of the sick leave levels, it was suggested.