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Feds on right track on sick leave

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  |  Posted: Saturday, Jan 04, 2014 06:00 am

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Is it union-busting Thatcher style, or a fair and honest approach to correcting a serious financial mistake? Thatís the question facing Canadians as the federal government prepares to crack down on civil servant sick days.

Earlier this year a report that was never intended to see the light of day was leaked, reporting the record-setting number of days that federal civil servants were calling in sick. The report, prepared for the Treasury Board, stated federal civil servants were, on average, calling in sick 18 days per year, about double the rate of all other public sectors, and costing Canadians taxpayers about $1 billion per year just in lost wages.

In stark contrast, the report estimated the private sector sees, on average, employees call in sick about seven to nine days a year, making the federal civil servantsí sick days total about two-and-a-half times the private sector.

Obviously, the situation is ridiculous. Many in the public sector world state such perks are used to attract the brightest and best to public sector work, in order to compete with private sectors such as the energy industry.

But itís obvious the pay and benefits in the public sector are completely out of step with the private sector, and the latter in many cases canít afford to compete for quality employees. Asinine sick day policies, coupled with incredulous vacation time and indexed pension plans give the public sector a taxpayer-funded advantage over the private sector. Itís completely absurd that the public sector is using private sector tax dollars to lure workers to the public system.

Also, the strain on government is considerable. Absenteeism has a serious effect on other employees and projects in many departments. Employees face issues like burnout and resentment and departments can face issues like missing costly project deadlines due to the absence of key people.

The unions that represent federal civil servants are protecting their members by saying Prime Minister Stephen Harper is attacking the middle class.

"Everything that this government is doing on its anti-union agenda is attacking middle-class Canadians," said Jean Lortie, general secretary of the Confederation des syndicats nationaux.

Interestingly, the Conference Board of Canada recently released a report looking at workplace absenteeism in general across the country and found the highest rates were in health care and social assistance sectors, with almost 10 days missing from work per year, while the lowest were in the professional, scientific and technical services industries, with an average of 5.8 days. These industries were also likely not to be unionized, stated the report.

Itís obvious too much absenteeism is occurring at the federal level, and the government is on the right track by ensuring sick leave for civil servants reflects the same rate as the private sector. Addressing absenteeism is the first step in reigning in bloated public sector compensation packages.


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