A report by the Comptroller and Auditor General published on Thursday says sick leave has jumped since the 1980's in the Irish civil service with the absence rate rising from 3.3% to almost 5% of available working time, which was lost to sickness absence in 2007. On average, 59% of all staff employed availed of sick leave in that year. The average employee was absent for just over 11 days.
The average number of days that each employee was out sick ranged from almost five and a half days in the Department of the Taoiseach to nearly 16 days in the Property Registration Authority
The percentage of staff who took sick leave ranged from 42% of staff in the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism to 76.5% in the State Laboratory.
42% of all instances of absence representing 9% of all days lost were uncertified by a doctor or unauthorised.
Almost half of all sick days were taken by Clerical Officers and three quarters of all Clerical Officers availed of sick leave. The average number of days taken by each Clerical Officer was 16 days.
Female staff absence accounted for 68% of all working days lost, the average number of sick days taken by each female employee was almost 14 days, while the average for each male employee was around eight days.
Monday was the most popular day to be sick.
The report says legitimate sickness leave is a normal part of employment but insisted civil servant managers need to intervene where it is “excessive and unwarranted.”
The number of days lost in the Irish civil service is comparable to the UK.
The C&AG cites a report published by the Cabinet Office in the UK, which estimated that the true cost of absence is likely to be closer to twice the level of salary costs alone. The report noted that some of the less direct cost effects include occupational health and welfare costs, additional management and administrative work in dealing with absence, lower productivity and reduced quality, lower customer satisfaction and increased stress on colleagues.
The total remuneration of Irish civil service staff during periods of sickness absence was estimated at €64 million. The full cost could be considerably higher if indirect costs were factored in, the C&AG said.
The report refers to a 2008 report which said that absence among Health Service Executive (HSE) staff was 5.7% of available workdays.
The Department of Education and Science has reported that absence among post-primary teachers was an average of 10.5 days in the period 2007/2008 (which with politicians, teachers have the lowest workdays in the workforce).
A recent survey of more than 600 UK employers shows that while private sector absence has fallen from 7.2 days to 6.4 days per employee per year, public sector absence has remained "stubbornly high," averaging 9.7 days compared to 9.8 days for the previous year.
In 2008, the Irish Small Firms Association said that the national average for private sector absenteeism is 3.5% or 8 working days. For large firms this rises to 4.6% or 10 working days. For small firms the average falls to 2.8% or 6 working days.
Special Report 69: Managing Sickness Absence in the Civil Service