Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 21 September 2014

Two months of sick leave for one in 10 civil servants

One in 10 civil servants in Northern Ireland took almost two months off on sick leave last year, shock new statistics have revealed.

The 10.4% of employees absent for an average of 58.6 days account for more than 70% of the total days lost in the Civil Service, it emerged.

The average sick leave across all departments is 10.1 days — down on the previous total of 10.7, but just short of the 10-day target set by Stormont ministers. However, it is the second year in a row in which the overall public-sector absenteeism totals have gone down.

The Justice Department has the highest absenteeism rate with an average of 12.6 days, compared to just under 10 in England and Wales.

For uniformed prison officers in Northern Ireland, the total is 17 days on average.

Prison Officers' Association (POA) chairman Finlay Spratt said: “It is a very difficult and dangerous job and many prison officers are assaulted.”

Three years ago Finance Minister Sammy Wilson said that excessive absenteeism was costing taxpayers £21m a year and some workers were clearly “swinging the lead”.

Kieran Bannon, assistant secretary of the largest Civil Service union, the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance (Nipsa), however, warned politicians against jumping on the “populist bandwagon”.

“The fact that this is the second year now that we have had a decline suggests we are moving in the right direction, but the average figures also mask the fact that a very significant number of our members take no sick leave whatsoever,” he said.

“I think it has been discovered that the ‘big stick’ approach to this does not work,” he added.

The headline absence level equates to approximately £28.6m in terms of lost production, but the proportion of staff with no recorded spells of absence increased from 51.8% in 2010/2011 to 53.7%.

The main reasons for absence were given, as in previous years, as anxiety, distress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses.

Factfile

  • 10% of civil servants averaged sick leave of 58 days.
  • 54% of civil servants take no sick leave.
  • Average absence across all departments is 10.1 days.
  • Highest absentee levels are in the Department of Justice.

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