Tuesday 20 February 2018

Cut sick days to save €40m -- Bruton

Fionnan Sheahan Political Editor

RICHARD BRUTON says workers in the public sector take nearly twice as many sick days as their counterparts in the private sector.

The Jobs Minister has savaged Social Welfare Minister Joan Burton's plan to make employers pay for sick leave, telling her to tackle the public sector to make savings.

In an escalation of tensions within the Coalition, Mr Bruton says €40m can quickly be saved if public sector workers took as few sick days as private sector employees. "If absences in the public service calculated at 11.3 days could be reduced to the private sector average of six days, there would be significant benefits," he said in a briefing note for Fine Gael TDs obtained by the Irish Independent.

He also said the extra output from public sector workers turning up for an extra five days on average would be worth another €300m.

Ms Burton's controversial proposals mean employers would have to pay the first four weeks of their staff's sick pay to save €150m.

But her Cabinet colleague says illness benefit claims lasting up to four weeks only account for 5pc of the total cost of illness benefit claims.

Mr Bruton said the plans would have a "particularly severe impact on small business" and there would be a "substantial financial and compliance cost".

The Jobs Minister is sure to infuriate public sector unions with his claim that sick leave in the public sector is twice as bad.

In his briefing documents, Mr Bruton said absence by workers in small businesses here was "close to the very best performers across Europe".

But he is heavily critical of the public sector end as he estimates they are almost twice as high.

"There is definite scope for further management of sick-day absence in the civil and public service," he said.

Mr Bruton also outlines the impact on small businesses, which don't have a well-established sick-pay scheme, unlike large companies.

"Bearing in mind that the gains in improved management of sick absences would be at best small, this would be a substantial finance and compliance cost to impose on such companies. Even as a revenue-raising exercise, it would be very inefficient," he said.

Mr Bruton's stance was backed by a number of Fine Gael backbenchers at the meeting, including party TD Simon Harris.

Mr Harris said the aim should be to reduce sick leave in the public sector, as set out in the Croke Park agreement.

"The Croke Park agreement is emphatic on this point," he said.

"When small and medium businesses are doing their best to survive, I want to see government policy helping them," he added.

Mr Harris said information he had obtained in questions to ministers on sick leave in their departments backs up Mr Bruton's figures.

A spokesman for Mr Bruton said the questions of sick leave and charges to employers were all "budgetary matters which will be decided by the Government in due course".

Irish Independent

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