Burton's staff take the most sick days
* Workers miss 12 days a year n Department staff responsible for paying out sick-leave claims
SOCIAL Protection Minister Joan Burton's staff have the highest rate of sick days in the entire civil service – missing an average of almost two-and-a-half weeks' work last year.
These are the same staff who are responsible for paying out sick leave claims from other public and private sector employees.
And Ms Burton herself has been calling for private sector employers to pay more of the cost of sick pay claims from their employees.
The average number of sick days taken last year in her department was 12.57. The rate is more than treble that in Finance Minister Michael Noonan's department, where staff were out sick for just under four days last year.
Ms Burton's department also had the highest level of average sick days in three of the past four years. It was only beaten in 2010 by the Department of Transport, where staff missed 13 days compared to 12.36 among Social Welfare staff.
Ms Burton's department has more than 7,000 staff.
The high rates of sick leave – which have only marginally dropped since 2007 – will cause concern, given the potential it has to delay the payment of social welfare claims and hinder the combating of social welfare fraud.
Fianna Fail TD Barry Cowen, who obtained the information via a series of parliamentary questions, called on Ms Burton to spend more time managing her department rather than engaging in "solo policy runs" in Cabinet.
"We are all aware of the pressure on the social welfare system at the moment, particularly in light of the jobs crisis. But staff need to be supported in their work and if workers are losing up to two-and-half-weeks' work per year, that support is clearly not there," he said.
A spokeswoman for Ms Burton said that the move of 2,000 FAS and community welfare staff into the department over the past year had increased the number of days lost to sick leave. But she insisted that if a different method was used – lost time rate – the department's absenteeism levels improved last year.
"The department takes the question of absenteeism very seriously and is continuing with its campaign to pro-actively reduce the rate of sick leave," she said.
There were also high levels of average sick leave in the Department of Jobs, at 10.53 days per staff member. But the Departments of Education is showing an improvement in its number of average sick days taken, which is down from 11.69 days to 9.72 days over the past four years.
Communications Minister Pat Rabbitte said there had been a 30pc reduction in the number of sick days in his department since 2010, with average sick days dropping from 12 to nine.
"This is due to the implementation of an attendance management policy in my department in 2011," he said.
Department of Justice average sick days went down by a day to nine days. But there was a bigger improvement in the Department of Defence, which is also headed by Alan Shatter, where the average number of sick days taken by staff fell from 11 days to six days in the past four years. The three most powerful government departments – which are all located alongside each other in Government Buildings – have the lowest levels of sick days on average.
Staff in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform took 3.99 days' sick leave, while the figure in the Department of Finance was 4.2 days.
And it was only marginally higher in the Department of the Taoiseach at 5.37 days.