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Sickies in public service twice that of private sector

PUBLIC servants took twice as much sick leave as private sector workers last year. And one of the worst-performing departments was Social Protection, whose minister, Joan Burton, has been proposing changes to cut the cost of sick leave to the taxpayer.

In her department, 3,075 staff -- almost 60 per cent -- took an average of 11 sick days per employee this year and 12 last year.

In addition to sick leave, the department said there were 10,526 "absences" last year, averaging out at two days per employee. The cost was €12.8m over 18 months.

New figures show that in some government departments, staff took an average of 12 sick days a year -- more than twice the figure in the private sector. Absenteeism across 12 of 17 government departments cost €21.6m.

The figures for sick leave in the public sector compare poorly with the private sector, where workers miss an average of just six days a year, according to a study in August by the employers' body Ibec.

The high absenteeism in Ms Burton's department comes as the Government plans to introduce new measures to curb sick leave and rates of absence.

More than €4bn of taxpayers' money was spent on sick leave pay in five years. The cost last year alone was estimated at €942m.

The Sunday Independent asked all 17 government departments about their sick leave rates and 12 responded.

Another department with a high rate of absenteeism was the Department of Communications, Energy and Natural Resources, where staff took an average of 12.5 sick days last year. About 3,355 days were lost in total, costing €541,946.

The Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation spent €2.1m on absenteeism in the 18 months to June this year. Seventy-two per cent of staff went off sick last year for 11 days.

At the Department of Education, staff took an average of nine days off sick in 2010 and eight so far this year, at a cost of €1.1m for 2011 alone.

Staff in the Department of Health missed an average of eight days last year and more than seven in the first 10 months of this year. The cost of absenteeism in that period was just over €1m.

The Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food lost €4.89m to sick leave last year and €3.9m so far this year. Staff there missed an average of seven days.

Civil servants in the Department of Defence took an average of 11 days off sick last year, which works out at a total cost of €590,000.

This year showed an improvement, however, with 187 staff who took sick leave in the first six months to June taking an average of four days.

Staff at the Department of Justice took an average of 10 sick days per employee last year but the figure has dropped to just four this year. The department didn't supply a figure for the cost of the absenteeism.

The Department of Transport, Tourism and Sport spent €1.7m on sick pay in the 18 months to June this year.

Of the 548 staff employed there last year, 340 took sick leave in 2010, averaging six days per employee.

Almost a third of staff at the Department of Children and Youth affairs have taken sick leave since it was established in June this year.

Of the 140 staff, 47 took sick leave between June and October this year and took an average of five calendar sick days. The cost has not been calculated yet, according to a spokesman.

At the Department of the Environment, Heritage and Local Government, 643 staff took 8,458 days sick last year, averaging almost eight days per employee. Staff took an average of six days off this year, at a cost of €990,574.

At the Department of Foreign Affairs, 690 employees took sick leave in 2010, out of a total staff of 1,218.

The staff took a total number of 9,533 sick days. From January to June 523 employees took a total of 4,529 sick days.

As no extra staff were employed to cover sick absences, there was no additional cost to the department.

Sunday Independent