Wednesday 24 January 2018

Sick leave in civil service falls by 68pc when pay is cut

Anne-Marie Walsh Industry Correspondent

THE number of civil servants on long-term sick leave dropped by a massive 68pc when their entitlement to full pay ended.

Startling new figures reveal that the number of absences due to illness over the last four years fell dramatically when the state employees were due to go on half pay after six months out of work.

A total of 1,483 workers were on fully paid sick leave for between three and six months, at a cost of €18.4m, over the last four years.

But most returned to work when the six-month period was up and their pay was due to be cut in half. The number of staff on half-pay sick leave dropped to 472 staff, at a cost of €5m.

A total of 410 staff were out for 12 months or longer, when the rate of pay becomes based on their pension.

The figures were compiled by management to give a picture of long-term paid sick leave among the civil service workforce of over 36,000. In the document, it says it is "noticeable" that the numbers of employees on paid sick leave drops considerably when sick pay drops to half the normal rate of pay after six months.

"It is reasonable to assume that the reduction in remuneration acts as an incentive to return to work," it says.

The analysis reveals that 2,365 civil servants were on some form of longer-term paid sick leave over the last four years, from April 2008 to last month.

The report says the state "is no longer in a financial position to be able to sustain the cost of the existing sick leave arrangements in the public service", adding it had agreed to reduce costs with the troika.

It says it has set a target of at least a €25m saving in public sector sick leave this year. The estimated annual cost of sick leave is over €600m, it says.

The document that details management's sick leave proposals was recently tabled at talks with unions at the Labour Relations Commission.

Under the rules of the current sick leave scheme, civil servants are entitled to full pay for six months and half pay for six months after that, once they have a doctor's note, in a four-year period.

Following this, they get a rate of pay based on their pension. But changing these rules are central to new plans drawn up by Public Expenditure and Reform Minister Brendan Howlin to reduce sick leave, which were announced in the Budget.

He wants to alter the arrangement so that those on long-term sick leave only get full pay for three months and three months half pay after that.

Exceptions will be made for those who have medical evidence of serious illness. They can get up to six months full pay, followed by three months half pay.

Unions are opposing the measures and argue that management already has the tools to stamp out abuse of the system.

The document says uncertified sick leave is costing €63.2m a year, while certified sick leave costs €488m. Garda civilian rates are the worst in the public sector, at 6.6pc.

Irish Independent

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