'Major savings' from sick pay reform

Fri, Jul 20, 2012, 01:00

The Government believes substantial savings will be generated as a result of new arrangements which will effectively halve sick leave entitlements for 300,000 staff across the public service.

However, the Minister of State at the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, Brian Hayes, said in addition to the reforms absenteeism had to be rooted out across the public service.

He said the Government expected managers in the public service to manage human resources to ensure the practice of absenteeism was addressed. “This is what they are paid well to do.”

Following a recommendation issued yesterday by the Labour Court, the general entitlement to sick leave in the public service for those with a certified illness will be reduced to three months on full pay and three months on half pay.

This can be followed by “temporary rehabilitation pay” – basically pension entitlements based on levels of service or €188 per week in social welfare benefits for a maximum of two years, including the period on full and half pay.

At present staff in the public service, in general, are entitled to six months of sick leave on full pay followed by six months on half pay within any period of four years, followed by the pension rate payments for an unlimited period.

For staff with a critical illness the current arrangement of six months’ full pay and six months on half pay will continue.

The court said that recourse to critical illness cover should be regarded as “an exceptional and normally non-recurring occurrence”. It suggested management and unions should seek to agree a protocol governing when this critical illness provision should be triggered.

The new arrangements for certified leave will come into effect from January 2014. Uncertified sick leave will be cut from seven days in any 12-month period to seven days in any two-year period.

The Government had originally sought for uncertified sick leave to be scaled back to three days in any year.

The Labour Court recommended there should be further talks on sick leave arrangements in the education sector.

Mr Hayes described the new sick leave arrangements as a “milestone”. He said the move would generate substantial savings, not just in cash terms but also in efficiency and productivity. However he did not put specific figures on the amount that would be saved.

Earlier yesterday, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin said the State’s bill of more than €500 million a year for sick leave in the public service was unsustainable.

“For most employees in the public service the new arrangements will mean that the amount of paid sick leave which they may be granted will be halved. It is essential we strike a balance so that those who are genuinely and seriously very ill should be given reasonable protection by their employer and so for that reason I proposed the introduction of a critical illness provision.

“While the reduction of the maximum amount of sick leave granted is critical, the effective management of absenteeism is a central element of the HR reforms. The key challenge now for each of the sectors in reducing absenteeism is to engage line managers in the proactive management of sick leave.”

General secretary of Impact trade union Shay Cody said: “The biggest fear among public servants was that they could be left without an income if they fell critically ill, regardless of their previous sick leave record.”

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