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These are the government departments with the highest rates of absenteeism

The sector’s head said there were an ‘unacceptable’ number of sick days being taken in the public service.

Updated at 6.10pm

THE HEAD OF the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform says there is still an “unacceptable” level of absenteeism in the state sector.

The department’s secretary-general, Robert Watt, today told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee that in 2013 public servants took an average 9.5 sick days each for the 12-month period, which meant 4.3% of all working hours were lost to absenteeism.

“There remains a significant leadership and management challenge in tackling absenteeism across the public service,” he said.

The department today published figures which put the estimated cost of sick leave in the public service at €370 million through lost work hours in 2013.

The figures also showed the rate of absenteeism was significantly higher among civil servants and many major government departments than for front-line staff like gardaí, teachers and health workers.

The average number of days lost across the civil service in 2013 was 10.3, with the highest figure for any department of more than 200 staff coming in the Property Registration Authority, where the rate was 13.96 days a year.

That was followed by the prison service (12.62), Department of Social Protection (12.5) and Central Statistics Office (12.36).

The rates of absenteeism in Revenue (10.7) and the Department of Education and Skills (10.41) were also above the civil-service average.

Meanwhile, the figure for civilians working with An Garda Síochána was 12.4, which was above the rates for gardaí (10.7), health workers (10.6), Defence Forces (7.4), post-primary teachers (6.5) and primary-school teachers (5.9).

The lowest rates of absenteeism were in the Department of Finance (4.26) and Ordnance Survey Ireland (5.32).

PAC Watt at the Public Accounts Committee Source: Oireachtas.ie

Absenteeism ‘not acceptable’

In comparison to the public-service figures, a recent survey of 452 companies from business group Ibec found the average number of sick days per worker in the private sector was 5.5 a year – or 2.35% of their total hours.

Watt said he expected to see a fall in public-sector absenteeism after the introduction of a new sick-leave system last year which effectively halved entitlements.

The number of uncertified sick days public servants can take over a two-year period was cut from 14 to seven days under the scheme.

While (the 2013) figures do not reveal the impact of last year’s sick-leave reforms it is clear that this level of absenteeism is not acceptable,” he said.

‘Smaller, less expensive’

But Watt said he oversaw a public service which was now much leaner than before the financial crisis after a 10% reduction in staff numbers and 20% cut in the government pay bill.

Public Source: Department of Public Expenditure and Reform

The changes included a successful ”quango cull” of 181 government and semi-state bodies.

“The public service is now smaller and a good deal less expensive than it was in 2009, and its work in continuing to  deliver essential services as budgets and staff numbers are reduced I think deserves to be acknowledged,” Watt said.

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About the author:

Peter Bodkin  / Editor, Fora

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