Belfast Telegraph

Civil servants' sickness level at 11 year high in Northern Ireland - average 13 days lost costing £33.8m

NIPSA says blame for sickness levels 'lay at door of NICS management"

The sickness rate among Northern Ireland civil servants has risen to its highest rate for more than a decade.

The latest Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency reports shows that on average 13 days were lost per staff member over the past 12 months. This was an increase from 12.5 days compared to the previous year.

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The sickness absence report contains analyses of trends over the last five years as well as headline figures since 1999/2000.

Last year's figures revealed the highest level of sickness absence  in 11 years.

The 13 days lost per staff member represented 6.0% of the available working days. In salary terms, this equated to an estimated £33.8 million of lost production - equivalent to around 4.0% of the total  Civil Service pay bill in 2017/2018.

Just under half (46.6%) of staff had no recorded absence.

More than one in every eight staff had at least one spell of long-term absence - these spells lasted around three months on average. This was the highest level of long-term absence observed in the last five years, and accounted for nearly three quarters of all working days lost.

Anxiety, stress, depression and other psychiatric illnesses accounted for the greatest proportion of working days lost.

The absence level for females  at 15.4 days remained higher than that for males at 10.9 days, with over half of this difference being due to gender-specific conditions.

Responding to the figures, trade union NIPSA said the blame for sickness levels 'lay at door of the NICS management".

General Secretary, Alison Millar, said: “After last year’s report we raised with management the need to do more to address in particular the level of illness due to anxiety, stress, depression and psychiatric illness. We offered to work jointly to see what could be done, in response we were told all that could be done was being done.

"This is not the case, management continue to make cuts, attack terms and conditions, change how people work and pile on more pressure whilst totally failing to address the root cause of the problem.”

She also condemned what she described as  "the hype" around the annual publication of the report.

“It is time to stop this annual ritual of a witch hunt against civil servants and for the civil service and others to understand that the pressures on civil servants both economic and workplace pressures are the cause with the resultant adverse impact on health and morale," said Ms Millar

"Rather than taking the current approach and being focused on ill-informed target setting I again call on the management to sit down with NIPSA to seek real and meaningful resolutions to the causes of ill-health in the workplace”.

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