Public sector sick days reflect lack of personal accountability

A confidential government report obtained by CBC News reveals federal workers have been booking off sick in record numbers, costing Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion a year in lost wages alone.

The internal Treasury Board report indicates federal public servants are staying home an average of 18 working days a year, or almost a full month off the job.

That is about 2½ times the average rate of absenteeism in Canadian private industry, and almost twice the level of sick leave and disability claims in the rest of the public sector.

See clip and story here at Public Sector Sick Days cost $1 billion a year.

I think the numbers speak for themselves. People can argue this about work place “stress in the public sector” all they want, but this is nonsense. There is work place stress in every kind of work. No private employee has a job guarantee of any kind. And government employees are paid significantly more than their private sector equivalents in general and especially since over the past 4 years as private sector jobs have vanished, the public sector has continued to receive increased benefits as if they are somehow immune or above the reality of today’s tenuous global economy. I think that the public sector is in for a painful readjustment to reality period over the next few years as budget constraints demand smaller governments and less entitlements for public workers.

This level of absenteeism could simply not be tolerated in the private sector. Most small business do not have dozens of people to fill in for missing workers. Smaller teams are more accountable to each other, because if one member is missing it creates a tangible burden on co-workers left to pick up the slack. At the end of the day, in general, public servants take more sick days because they are allowed to. It is tolerated by the culture and mindset of working for a big, faceless institution. I see this lack of personal accountability as similar to the outrageous entitlements of many working in the c-suite of publicly traded corporations. They take too much, because they can. It is tolerated and bank-rolled by a body of public shareholders who are largely unknown and not present to witness day to day operations and behaviors.

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8 Responses to Public sector sick days reflect lack of personal accountability

  1. aliencaffeine says:

    You can count America’s Number One Drug Addict…..Ben Bernanke amongst the missing but paid employees. My oh my what a wicked web he weaves…..just look at EWC, EWZ, FXI…DIA….SPY…QQQ….such reversals, such trouble!!!

    And now it gets worse…..BBBY and UA…..the retail consumer is DYING old Benster.
    Your steroids ain’t working anymore ‘dude’.

    Maybe we should get someone in there like Danielle and Cory to ‘fix things’.

  2. John says:

    Danielle, you’re right on the money. In general, public sector workers have been living in a bubble, coddled by outmoded collective agreements that have turned privileges into rights. I can’t tell you how many public sector workers I know who treat sick days like vacation (all of them). And they can even accrue banked sick days and retire that much earlier! Incredible! Whenever I try to explain that, for us schmucks in the private sector, sick days (when you get them) are for when you are actually sick, I usually get a dear-in-the-headlights stare.

    I can also attest that productivity in the public sector is abysmal. They even brag about it. This is not my inference. This comes from many people I know who work in various levels of government. I can go on, but suffice to say, it’s disgusting. And what makes it worse is the inequlity between public and private sector pay as you point out in your piece. This is not only grossly unfair because it is our taxes that pay their salaries, but it is also very bad for social cohesion because even among the middle class you develop a two-tier society of haves and have nots. But most public sector workers just have no clue. It will make it that much harder to them to take when the adjustments really start to kick in. I just hope the government doesn’t try to after us net tax payers for more money to make up for things like pension short-falls. Then I’ll really be pissed.

  3. Paul Murphy says:

    When I started the public sector was behind the private sector and the security of a govt job was the “extra” we got so the govt could compete for good employees. Since the private sector has had so much success screwing their employees – no real gains since the 80s – the publics have caught up and now the privates have to whine about the publics to make their jobs seem like anything but rip-offs. Downward spiral and guess what, less money to employees, less consumption, fewer profitable companies, more bankruptcies, more lay offs. Money was made round to go round through society, but when the 1% sucks more and more out for themselves it destroys the system, killing the goose that buys the golden egg. Plant that food in your backyard, we’ll all soon need it!

  4. Aizlynne says:

    My brother is a civil servant and has collected enough sick days that he has just over a years worth of time that he can take. His plan is to use it the last year before he retires so he can get a whole year off with full pay.

  5. Robert says:

    I rushed to get to a Canada Service office today to renew my Passport. I was worried that they might close at 4:30 pm. They closed at 4:00 pm, office hours 8:30 am – 4:00 pm. Are we living in Greece?

  6. dylan says:

    we need more articles like this exposing and keeping top of mind for tax payers what is actually happening in the public sector.

    perfect leverage for upcoming negotiations with the unions

  7. Roberta says:

    Public sector employees were supposed to be the “servants” to the people. Now they rule and opress the people.

    We need to give all of the public sector employees 20% pay cuts, get rid of all of their retirement benefits (past, current, and future), put them on Social Security and 401Ks just like the private sector, including the politicians. They’ll fix SS so fast your head will spin.

  8. Neil says:

    As there is a LOT of misinformation about public sector employment and undeserved stereotypes it is really important journalists put this report into context as it presently is not. Annual sick leave for a full-time employee is 15 days a year so the finding that the average worker is taking 18 days a year raised the question of why worker are using up more than they are given a year. This is not a normal number as it is just plainly not sustainable. There are a number of reasons this over-use can be attributed to such as:

    1. Unlike the private sector, the federal public sector in Canada is much older and closer to retirement. Older workers use more sick leave than younger one public or private.
    2. The fact is that sick days are not paid out when you are fired from the public sector so those who have been modest in using their sick days now have a real incentive to use them at a higher rate. I know you deem it as nonsense, but stress is a major factor in the lives of civil servants today and I agree that if the private sector had, on average, bankable sick days they would take more time off work too.

    As a policy solution, I would limit public sector sick days per year from 15 to 10 with only 20% (2 days) allowed to be banked forward to the next year.

    I have worked most of my adult life in small family-owned private business before moving to the public sector and I can see both sides of the story pretty well. Cynical criticism and a huge lack of understanding of what the public sector actually does sadly is the norm. While I personally believe an allowance of 15 sick days a year is excessive, I would argue that anything less than 10 is punitive. When I was working in the private sector I had precious few sick days and none of them were bankable year over year so in at least a couple instances I remember not taking time off when I should have and having an illness turn into something much worse (in my case, a leg injury that ended up lasting years and a bad flu that turned into pnemonia). And as Canadians are allowed less vacation times that the majority of developed western nations, using my vacation time to deal with such illnesses meant that I was lucky to have a week or two left for a single vacation a year.

    As a civil servant myself I am really frustrated at the level of criticism and the lack of respect public service deserves. I worked very hard for my job, completeling two degrees and moving across the country to secure employment. But my employment now is anything but secure so I don’t feel I in any way have had things “easy”.
    While I can understand the disconnect between public sector and private sector sick leave raising some good questioning of current public sector entitlements, I would more forcefully urge readers to question if there outrage at such a report isn’t actually a case of public sector entitlements seeming unfair when their own are so meager. I would strongly suggest that the focus of such a discussion should be equally shared between private and public sector work realities. In times such as these we need to avoid such a generalized, fracturous debate and instead focus on what exactly good government and a responsible private sector should look like.

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