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Civil servants average 12 days off sick a year as £32m lost to absences

By Adrian Rutherford

Published 23/09/2016

Bumper Graham said the voluntary exit scheme contributed to the riseJuly
Bumper Graham said the voluntary exit scheme contributed to the riseJuly

Sick leave in the Civil Service is continuing to rise, with the average worker taking almost 12 days off in the past year.

It is estimated that more than £32m worth of productivity was lost because of illness.

Stress and anxiety continue to be the biggest drivers, a report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency said.

The absenteeism rate is running well above official targets.

The level of 11.7 days lost per employee is considerably higher than the Great Britain Civil Service rate of 8.8 days and the overall UK jobs average (6.9 days).

Ulster Unionist MLA Philip Smith said the Executive must get to grips with the issue.

"Whilst it is a matter of everyday life that people do and will get sick, the revelation that civil servants in Northern Ireland take on average 11.7 days off with sickness will amaze many of those working in the private sector, as well as those Civil Service colleagues who rarely are absent at all," he added.

Yesterday's report analysed trends over the past five years and detailed the progress being made towards absence targets.

The key points included:

  • While half of all staff had no recorded absence, a total of 277,855 days were lost in 2015/16;
  • The 11.7 days lost per employee represented 5.3% of the available working days;
  • In salary terms this equated to about £32m of lost production;
  • More than one in 10 staff had at least one long-term absence spell lasting an average of nearly three months;
  • Anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses continue to be the main reason for absence.

The average of 11.7 days per staff member is up from 10.8 in the previous year and short of the annual target of 8.5. At no point in the last five years has this target been met.

Mr Smith, the UUP's finance spokesman, added: "The Executive has consistently failed to meet targets in relation to reducing the number of lost days, and as a result absence rates remain significantly higher here than the Civil Service in Great Britain.

"Instead of the problem easing, it's deteriorating."

He also questioned what impact the roll-out of the voluntary exit scheme had on these increased levels of absence. As of July, 2,996 civil servants have left their posts under the scheme,initiated by Stormont to slim down the public sector.

Bumper Graham from the Nipsa union said the scheme had contributed to the rise in sickness absence.

"The loss of 3,000 civil servants in a very short period of time in a very ill-planned and totally unstructured redundancy scheme, has led and exacerbated the sickness issue," he added.

"The loss of those jobs has added pressure and stress on the remaining workforce, who are being asked to do even more with less resources."

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