Saturday 18 November 2017

Public-sector sick leave up despite Croke Park vow

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

SICK leave has increased in five government departments -- including the Taoiseach's -- despite a promise in the Croke Park deal to cut it by 10pc.

An investigation by the Irish Independent shows that staff at the Department of Social Protection took more sick leave than any of the other 15 government departments.

They took a total of 13-and-a-half sick days each last year, compared with just over 12 days the previous year -- at an estimated cost of over €9m to the taxpayer.

The number of days lost to illness also increased in the Department of Health, Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation, Department of Education and Skills, and Department of the Taoiseach last year.

This was despite a target set by civil service management in the Croke Park deal to cut levels in every department and civil service agency by 10pc by the end of last year, "with further reductions thereafter".

Yesterday public sector management and unions went head-to-head at the Labour Relations Commission over plans to cut sick-leave costs.

Management wants to change the rules so staff can take fewer sick days without a doctor's note, while those out for long periods would be paid less.

However, the largest public sector union, IMPACT, rejected the proposals and insisted management already has the tools to stamp out abuse of the system.

The talks, which adjourned yesterday, follow Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin's vow to revamp sick leave in the Budget.

He claimed some public servants treated sick leave as an entitlement, like holidays -- and said it was costing €500m annually across the public sector.

The survey showed the average number of days taken by staff at the Department of Health was just under 12 each, up from 10 days in 2010.

Average sick leave rose slightly from 11.4 to 11-and-a-half days in the Department of Jobs, and from six days to eight in the Taoiseach's department.

This compares with an average 7.7 days taken by workers in comparable private sector businesses with over 500 employees, according to employer group IBEC.

Overall, the average number of days taken in all 16 government departments dropped by around 5pc, from nine to eight-and-a-half days. But this does not meet the Croke Park target.

The Department of Social Protection, where sick leave is highest, said long-term absences pushed up the number of working days lost. It said 17,439 days, or 24pc, of all working days lost were due to 103 absences of six months or more.

However, other departments did make progress and the Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport saw a reduction of over 20pc in days lost last year.

General secretary of IMPACT, Shay Cody, rejected Mr Howlin's remarks. "The assertion that sick leave arrangements are treated by staff as additional holiday entitlement is well wide of the mark," he said.

Irish Independent

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