Public sector sick leave entitlements to be halved

Thu, Jul 19, 2012, 01:00

Sick leave arrangements for 300,000 staff in the public service are effectively to be halved under the terms of a Labour Court ruling issued today.

Public servants are entitled to six months of sick leave on full pay followed by six months on half pay within any period of four years when this is certified by a doctor.

Under the new Labour Court recommendation certified sick leave will be reduced to three months' full pay followed by three months' half pay followed by "temporary rehabilitation pay" for a maximum period of two years in total. This period will include the three months' full and three months' half pay.

Uncertified sick leave will be cut from seven days in any 12-month period to seven days in any two-year period.

The new arrangements will introduce a critical illness provision. The court recommends that critical illness cover be provided for six months on full pay and six months on half pay.

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

The Minister had put forward proposals for reforming sick leave arrangements several months ago. However trade unions objected to the plans, and the issue ultimately went to the Labour Court for a binding ruling.

Mr Howlin today welcomed the Labour Court recommendation and said it would “pave the way for the introduction of a completely reformed new sick leave scheme for the public service”.

In a statement today Mr Howlin said: “Reformed sick leave arrangements in public service will result in increased productivity, reductions in absenteeism and a significant reduction in the cost of sick leave in the public service.

“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 that 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.

Mr Howlin added: “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.”

He said it was intended cost savings would be achieved through a parallel approach of revising the current paid sick leave arrangements and implementing more robust systems to manage sick leave actively by line managers.

Minister of State for Public Service Reform Brian Hayes said absenteeism had to be "rooted out" in the public service. He said managers had to manage and that's why they were being paid high salaries.

Under the recommendation, staff suffering long-term critical illness or serious physical injury will still be able to take six months paid sick leave, followed by six months on half pay, over a four-year period.

The largest public service union, Impact, said unions had prioritised protection for staff with critical illnesses.

Impact general secretary Shay Cody, who led the union side in talks on the revised sick leave arrangements, 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.

"That’s why we prioritised this issue and we have successfully defended the arrangements currently in place. We were also determined to retain a reasonable facility for self-certified sick leave, and we have significantly modified management plans in this area. Nevertheless, these are significant changes which public servants need to make themselves aware of.”

Mr Cody said unions had not accepted the need to change the sick leave arrangements and had argued that management already had the tools to address any mismanagement or abuse of the system

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