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Sick rates in passport office hits holidays

WE all depend on them to make sure we can go on our holidays but staff at the passport office have been taking more time off than most.

The office, which is regularly the scene of lengthy queues, has been hit by unusually high rates of sick leave. Figures show staff take almost twice as many sick days as other civil servants.

On average passport workers call in sick 13 days a year, more than double the average number of days taken by private sector workers.

The high rate of absenteeism is thought to be contributing to a serious backlog of passport applications.

During the summer peak, applicants had to wait up to 15 days for a new passport.

And the Department of Foreign Affairs had to recruit extra temporary staff.

However, despite this, the department has played down the unusually high rates of sick leave affecting each of its three facilities in Dublin city centre, Balbriggan, Co Dublin and Cork city.


The union representing staff has also rejected fears a culture of absenteeism existed and said no disciplinary action had been taken against workers for abuses of sick leave.

Figures published today show that passport staff in Balbriggan and Cork were unable to work due to illness on 13 occasions last year, while colleagues at the Molesworth Street office in the city centre took an average of 10.9 sick days.

The records show the trend has continued in the first six months of this year.

The average number of sick days taken in the passport service offices in Cork, Balbriggan and Molesworth Street were 6.9, 6.8 and 5.1 respectively. In contrast the average figure for sick days taken elsewhere in the department between January and June was just 3.5.

As a consequence of recent backlogs, the passport service, which already employs 328 people, has been forced to hire in 84 temporary workers at a cost of €362,000.

Overtime payments totalling €457,000 have also had to be made this year in a bid to keep up with demand.

This is on top of an overtime bill of €1.7m last year and €844,000 the year before.

CPSU assistant general secretary Theresa Dwyer said that if management felt an absenteeism problem existed, it was open to them to use disciplinary procedures to deal with it.

"It is a difficult place to work in. There's a lot of stress. But I think our members work to it very well," she said.

"The sick leave regulations are there. If members are not adhering to them, there's an action to be taken."