Management needs to show it is serious about reform
The unwillingness of some local authorities to introduce policies to tackle high rates of absenteeism are a failure of management. It now falls on the Department of the Environment to address chronic levels of sick leave in our city and county councils if they want to show they are serious about reform.
The fact that the 'average' worker takes 11 days leave a year - twice the private sector rate - flies in the face of promises to deliver world-class local services. If management cannot grasp this most basic function, what hope is there of delivering services which we all pay through general taxation and, let us not forget, the Local Property Tax?
The numbers employed in the sector have fallen from almost 38,000 in 2008 to some 28,000 today. There's no doubt that workers are doing more than ever before.
But there's clearly something very wrong when the figures show that so many are off sick at any one time.
The most recent statistics show that more than 350,000 working days were 'lost' through absenteeism in the local government sector. For short-term absences, the main reasons include colds, flu, respiratory tract infections and medical appointments.
The most common reasons for long-term absences are musculoskeletal disorders such as lower back pain, recovery from surgery and acute medical conditions, including cancer.
Obviously, these things happen. But what's of most concern is that some councils are not analysing how long workers are remaining out of work, coupled with the fact that managers are not being trained in this area.
The Local Government Auditor points out that if the council can identify the number of absences, it can target interventions. If line managers - many of whom are untrained - have a 'return to work' conversation it may help avoid further spells away from work, and identify those playing the system.
Many are also not looking at risk, despite more than 4,500 days being lost due to work-related stress and staff also being forced off work due to workplace accidents.
If the policies already set out more than a year ago were fully implemented, it would help bring down the number of days being lost and reduce the annual sickness bill by €21m a year over time - a lot of money in a sector in dire need of funding.
Councillors should really be asking management what is being done to address this issue. Failure to tackle high levels of sick leave leaves the sector open to accusations that workers are malingering, something far short of the truth.