Absenteeism rates among local authority staff are twice that of workers in the private sector, and are higher than in the HSE or the civil service, newly published Government figures show.
Local authority workers take an average of almost 12 sick days each a year at a cost of more than €64 million to the State, according to the latest report from the Local Government Audit Service.
Absenteeism rates attributed to illness in city and county councils have been on the rise for almost a decade, according to the value-for-money audit.
Workers in Limerick city are the unhealthiest, taking an average of 17 sick days a year, while their neighbours working for the county council take fewer than 12 days a years. The trend is reversed in Waterford where county council workers take more than 15 days off a year and their counterparts in the city fewer than 12.
Donegal council workers have the best health, taking just nine days off each. Among the four Dublin local authorities, sick leave rates are highest in Fingal, where workers take an average of 13 days off a year and lowest in the city, where the average is fewer than 11 days off a year.
The audit relates to 2011 figures but has just been published ahead of Government measures to halve sick leave entitlements for the public sector. The changes due to come into force next month allow workers three months’ full pay followed by three months’ half pay followed by “temporary rehabilitation pay” for a maximum period of two years for certified sick leave. Uncertified sick leave will be cut from seven days in any 12-month period to seven days in any two-year period.
The absenteeism rate for illness across the State’s 34 local authorities was 5.19 per cent in 2011, in the HSE it was 4.9 per cent and in the civil service 4.21 per cent. However, in the private sector, the rate was 2.58 per cent, or fewer than six days missed per worker, according to employers’ body Ibec.
Sick leave absences among local authority workers cost €64.64 million in 2011. A target has been set to reduce illness-related absences to 3.5 per cent, which the report said would result in annual savings of €21 million.
Working days lost
A total of 353,176 working days were lost, an average of 11.78 sick days per local authority employee. Of these, 310,466 were paid sick days and just 42,710 were unpaid. Doctors’ sick certs were presented in relation to 301,108 of the absences while 52,068 sick days were uncertified .
Just under 30,000 staff took sick days . The number of staff who took no sick days could not be calculated, the report said, because two local authorities did not provide details, and one did not provide sufficient information. Some 11,314 employees availed of 236,422 certified days, while 12,827 employees took 37,394 uncertified days.
The report found one-third of local authorities had set no target for reducing absenteeism and half had no attendance management plan. The top causes of short-term illness absence were flu, colds, and respiratory tract infections. The causes of long-term sickness were cited as musculoskeletal disorders, post-surgery and acute medical conditions such as cancers.
A total of 4,536 days were declared as days lost due to work-related stress in the 24 local authorities that provided data on that issue.