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Social Protection Department gives older age of workers as reason why it's near top of sick leave list

The secretary general of the department said 3,000 staff members are over 55.

ONE OF THE reasons for the Department of Social Protection staff taking the highest amount of sick leave last year is the age profile of workers, according to the secretary general. 

The average worker at the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection was out for 13 days due to illness.

This compared to an average of under nine days across the public service. The department is only second behind prison officers, who take 15 on average. 

“It is an issue of concern for us,” said John McKeon, the secretary general of the department. However, he said the reason for the high level of leave is due to age profile, the gender mix and civil service grade mix within his department. 

He told the Oireachtas Public Accounts Committee recently that the department has 150 staff under the age of 30, but it has 3,000 staff over 55. 

There are 630 people over the age of 60 – about 10% of the staff – working in the department. 

The secretary general said the age profile is a lot older in the Department of Social Protection, adding that 12 people died in service last year. He said this would be unusual in any other government department. 

McKeon said that such a breakdown would not be the typical age breakdown for departments. 

The median age in across the other departments is 53, he explained. 

Sinn Féin’s David Cullinane said he did not accept the explanation, as the breakdown of sick leave supplied from the Department of Expenditure and Reform listed a number of caveats that might explain why some statistic could be skewed, but that age and gender were not mentioned.  

He said the prison officers is the highest at 15.7 days leave, but given the nature of the their work, it is understandable. 

Cullinane said there was no obvious reason as to why the department would be in second place. 

The Waterford TD said he was in no way suggesting the civil servants are not entitled to take sick leave, stating that he also understood they worked very hard. 

However, he said if there is a problem in the department “which for whatever reason” staff are taking higher than usual sick leave, then it should be addressed. 

Cullinane said he sees these figures as indicative of issues in the workplace in terms of issues of stress or work practices, and not about civil servants taking sick leave. 

The TD asked for a more detailed breakdown of the age, gender and civil service grade within each department so as to ascertain if it makes a difference in the overall picture of sick leave being taken by staff. 

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