Wednesday 18 September 2019

Report highlights higher level of absenteeism in state sector

There was an interesting report released last week which laid bare the level of absenteeism in the state sector.

There has been unhealthy debate in Irish society for several years of state versus private sector.

It probably was always there in the backround but to my mind it really came to a head during the benchmarking process under Bertie's Ahern's government and then during the economic crash when thousands of people in the private sector lost their jobs and recruitment was frozen in the public sector.

The benchmarking process and what followed created a divide in the working classes, between those in state employ and those in private employment.

Speaking last week to the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the head of the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform says there is still an 'unacceptable' level of absenteeism in the state sector.

The department's secretary-general, Robert Watt, told the PAC hat in 2013 public servants took an average 9.5 sick days each for the 12-month period, which meant 4.3% of all working hours were lost to absenteeism.

The department published figures which put the estimated cost of sick leave in the public service at €370 million through lost work hours in 2013.

Interestingly the figures also showed the rate of absenteeism was significantly higher among civil servants and many major government departments than for front-line staff like gardaí, teachers and health workers, where you might have expected higher levels of sickness or injury such as from doctors and nurses who work with sick people day in and day out or gardai who are are assaulted or at other risks.

The average number of days lost across the civil service in 2013 was 10.3, with the highest figure for any department of more than 200 staff coming in the Property Registration Authority, where the rate was 13.96 days a year.

That was followed by the prison service (12.62), Department of Social Protection (12.5) and Central Statistics Office (12.36).

The rates of absenteeism in Revenue (10.7) and the Department of Education and Skills (10.41) were also above the civil-service average.

In comparison to the public-service figures, a recent survey of 452 companies from business group IBEC found the average number of sick days per worker in the private sector was 5.5 a year - or 2.35% of their total hours.

There was major reform of the sick leave entitlements in the state sector last year which is not yet included in the figures.

The figures certainly do point to higher levels of absenteeism in the public sector, why that is the case is not determined.

Perhaps it is that state employees face more risks than private sector employees, perhaps it is their better sick leave entitlements, but the figures made interesting reading. A similar report next year, under the new entitlements might be very revealing.

Irish Independent