Jul 082013
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Averages can be deceiving.

from the Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

Treasury Board President Tony Clement has expressed concern about the cost to taxpayers of what he claims is an exceedingly high absentee rate (compared to the private sector) due to illness and disability among federal government workers. But beyond citing lax case management by the federal government and the need to better accommodate newer employees who do not have a sufficient number of unused sick days to carry them through a serious illness or disability, he did not address the underlying causes for this absenteeism. Nor did he adequately explain the reasons for wishing to replace the current system of banked sick days with a short-term disability plan.

  • The existing system of banked, unused sick leave was introduced in 1970 and, in the absence of a short-term disability plan, is intended to allow employees who are ill or disabled for extended periods to be paid their regular salary until they qualify for long-term disability coverage.

  • It currently takes a minimum of 4.3 years for a PIPSC member to accumulate the 65 days of unused sick leave required to meet the qualifying period for long-term disability. Many federal public servants have not accumulated the sick leave required to bridge the gap between short term sickness and eligibility for long-term disability.

  • Treasury Board claims that federal government employees are absent due to illness or disability on average 18.2 days per year. Unions depend entirely on the data provided by the federal government and have not received a full accounting of this number so have no way of assessing its validity. At a minimum this number is inflated by including both paid and unpaid days off.

    Workers in the private sector often find themselves unemployed if they fall ill.

  • StatsCan reports the relevant private- and public-sector absentee figures are 6.7 days and 10.9 days, respectively. However, workers in the private sector often find themselves unemployed if they fall ill. This accounts, in part, for the discrepancy between public- and private-sector averages. It also demonstrates why comparisons between the public and private sectors are at a minimum difficult and often inaccurate since more accurate statistics exist for the public sector than for the private sector.

  • The federal government’s suggested average for annual sick leave is undoubtedly skewed and further distorted by:

    • a relatively small percentage of workers who are off work for long periods of time due to illness or disability;

    • workers employed in especially stressful work environments – e.g., correctional services – and stress resulting from recent and ongoing budget and staff cuts. (Since 2006, for example, disability claims have increased 37 per cent, and roughly 48 per cent of all new disability claims are related to mental health issues.);

    • a failure by the federal government to manage the existing system effectively – most notably a failure to meet the legal duty to accommodate workers on a timely basis, which would allow more employees to continue working or to return to work sooner.

  • Treasury Board has described the current plan of banked, unused sick days as a $5-billion liability. This is particularly misleading since unused sick leave cannot be cashed in.

About Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

The Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada (PIPSC) was founded in 1920. With its 57,000 members, the Institute is the largest union in Canada representing scientists and professionals employed at the federal and some provincial and territorial levels of government.

© Copyright 2013 Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

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