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Civil Service must act over soaring sick days

Editor's Viewpoint

Published 23/09/2016

The Department of Justice had the most absence due to sickness with 15.9 days in 2015/16.
The Department of Justice had the most absence due to sickness with 15.9 days in 2015/16.

Despite undertakings from the Civil Service about clamping down on absences through illness, the figure continues to rise.

The latest statistics show that a Civil Service employee here, on average, took 11.7 days off work, compared to 10.8 days during the previous year.

Obviously, the problem is getting worse, not better. Based on a five-day week, the average civil servant is now away from their desk for almost an additional fortnight.

According to a report by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency, there was an estimated productivity loss of £32m in the past year, and stress and anxiety continued to be the biggest factors that keep some employees from their workplace.

The figures here are higher than the United Kingdom Civil Service rate of 8.8 days, and the overall UK jobs average of 6.9 days.

These levels of absence by Northern Ireland civil servants would never be accepted in the private sector, which simply could not survive with such a high ratio.

MLA Philip Smith, who is the UUP's finance spokesman, voiced the thoughts of most right-thinking people in Northern Ireland when he said that these figures of sickness absence "will amaze many of those working in the private sector, as well as those Civil Service colleagues who are rarely absent at all".

Nevertheless, we taxpayers are funding this level of absence in the public sector, and there seems to be little that we can do about it.

Without doubt there are certain genuine causes for absence through illness, but there is also a widespread belief in Northern Ireland that many people treat sickness absence as another form of annual leave.

This is grossly unfair not only on the colleagues who make up the employment shortfall, but also on those people inside and outside the Civil Service, to whom such behaviour is reprehensible and who turn up for their daily employment .

A union spokesman blamed the loss of nearly 3,000 Civil Service jobs as a contributory factor in the rise of sickness absences.

However, most other employees, particularly in the private sector, literally get on with the job despite the reduced numbers, which adds to their workload.

The plain truth that it is time for the Civil Service to get tough with the malingerers in their ranks and to stop simply talking about it.

Belfast Telegraph

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