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Unions and management are both working hard to reduce levels of sickness in the Civil Service

letter of the day: NIRSA report

There's now a familiar 'debate' following the publication of NISRA's annual report into sickness absence levels in the Civil Service (see 'call to probe phenomenal scale of Civil Service sickness in NI', Belfast Telegraph, Sept 21).

Unfortunately, in amongst the headlines, there are simple facts that provide context, that are often omitted from the public's understanding.

The NICS is a large employer, with a workforce that is ageing and also shrinking in numbers due to a recent Voluntary Exit Scheme. Traditionally, civil servants expect to be continuously employed for 40 years or more to receive a full pension on retirement.

But their retirement age is no longer guaranteed and many will now have to work more years than they expected.

In this scenario, statistics on sickness absence will simply indicate the natural events and trials of life; the births, illnesses, medical retirements and deaths that occur in such a large 'sample' (if I may dehumanise my colleagues for the purpose of rudimentary science).

Indeed NISRA's report indicates that the consequence of the age profile, is that although older civil servants have fewer absences, when they are absent, they are off longer with more serious and enduring illnesses.

Significantly, the highest proportion of working days lost is attributed to anxiety/stress/depression/other psychiatric illness. A third of that is related to work-related stress, but in all circumstances, the issues for civil servants are no different to the wider population.

They too have to wait endlessly for appointments to be seen by various health professionals, in various disciplines, with the same delays in receiving appropriate treatment, relying as we all do, on a health service that is so critically under-resourced.

There is much good work between management and unions at departmental level to challenge the causes of sickness absence and to offer support. But the decision to centralise personnel services in the Department of Finance with a view to reducing the staffing complement by 50% is not a welcome or sensible move in the circumstances.

Michael Robinson

Assistant Departmental Secretary,

Nipsa Department for Infrastructure

Belfast Telegraph

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