Major cuts to public sector sick leave plan

Sat, Apr 28, 2012, 01:00

THE GOVERNMENT is next week to propose major cuts to existing sick leave arrangements in the public service.

In a process to get under way at the Labour Relations Commission on Tuesday, the Government is expected to table opening proposals which would see staff receive full pay for certified sick leave absences for three months, with half pay provided for a further three months.

There are also likely to be special provisions made for staff with long-term serious medical conditions such as cancer.

However, sources said last night the Government’s paper to be presented on Tuesday represented the beginning of a process with the public service unions on the sick leave issue.

The final revised arrangement for sick leave is likely to be higher than the level set out in the initial Government proposal.

At present employees in the public service can avail of up to seven days’ uncertified sick leave in a 12-month period.

Staff can receive full pay for certified sickness absence for up to six months in one year, and half- pay thereafter, subject to a maximum of 12 months of paid sick leave in any period of four years.

Existing sick leave arrangements are costing some €500 million a year, according to official estimates, a figure Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin last week described as “unsustainable”.

Sick leave provision in the private sector can vary between employers.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform said that, as part of the Croke Park agreement, management and staff representatives had agreed to work together to deliver increased productivity and maximise efficiencies.

She said the State was no longer in a financial position to be able to sustain the €500 million cost of the existing sick leave arrangements in the public service.

She said a reduction in the amount of paid sick leave would result in increased productivity, a reduction in the cost of sick leave and improved staff morale.

“The need to increase productivity has become even more critical given the requirement to deliver services to the public with reduced numbers and the need to reduce the cost of delivering public services,” the spokeswoman added. “In all sick leave arrangements, we are mindful of people who are suffering from serious long-term illnesses.

“We want a system that strikes the balance between increasing productivity, reducing costs and adequately provides support for people with serious illness.”

The spokeswoman said proactive management of sick leave was critical in reducing absenteeism rates.