“An epidemic of sick-leave abuse” in public service says taxpayer watchdog

Andy Radia
Politics Reporter
Canada Politics

Just ahead of Labour Day, a right wing think-tank has embroiled itself in a feud against Canada's largest public sector union.

On Thursday, the Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) sent out at a release urging the federal government to crack down on what they call an "epidemic" of sick-days in the public service.

Overall, federal government employees took 17.9 days of sick leave, according to the most recent Treasury Board survey. In comparison, the most recent report from Statistics Canada shows employees working outside of government took only 6.7 sick days in 2012.

"We have more federal government employees booking off sick on any given day than actually show up for work at General Motors and Chrysler combined,” said CTF Federal Director Gregory Thomas.

“We’re facing an epidemic of sick-leave abuse amongst government employees and it needs to be stopped.

“Too many government employees have forgotten the meaning of an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay.”

Canada's public sector unions aren't taking the CTF's attack lying down.

CUPE spokesperson Mark Hancock told CTV News that private sector workers take less sick days because they're forced to work when they're sick.

"Do they want [public sector] workers coming in, driving ambulances, working with sick people, with kids, when they’re feeling sick, nauseous, when they have injuries?” said Hancock.

"It’s comparing apples to oranges and it’s not fair at all."

[ Related: Jim Flaherty criticized for latest exclusive meeting with Canada’s corporate elite ]

The Public Service Sector Alliance of Canada — Canada's largest public sector union — published their own release, on Friday, claiming that the taxpayer watchdog's numbers are misleading.

"It's Labour Day and as hard working Canadians across the country celebrate with their families, it comes as no surprise that the Canadian Taxpayers Federation is once again using the occasion to attack and denigrate public sector workers.

That [CTF figures include] workers with extended illnesses, such as cancer or mental health problems, who are using up sick leave credits before qualifying for long term disability.

Treasury Board's data shows that most “sick leave without pay” is used by employees who are off work for most of the year. 95% of federal public sector workers don't use any sick leave without pay. The government refuses to break down the numbers and separate out those on long term sick leave. If they did, it is far more likely that the majority of federal public sector workers are taking between 0 and 8 days of paid sick leave per year – not 18.

But we shouldn't expect the CTF to be honest and diligent about their research. They would rather attack and insult a group of Canadians who ensure our country is safe, fair and prosperous. It is increasingly obvious that the CTF doesn't represent the interests of taxpayers at all, but rather the narrow partisan interests of the government of the day.

As recently explained by the Ottawa Citizen, federal public servants get 15 days of sick leave a year which they can bank year to year. Long-term disability is available — at 70 per cent of salary — after a 13-week waiting period.

In June, Treasury Board President Clement called the current rules "archaic" and pledged to introduce case management and rehabilitation support to ensure individuals are not taking advantage of the system.

[ Related: Union upset at Clement's plan to reform sick leave benefits ]

Perhaps the provincial governments need to look to amending their 'archaic' rules as well.

Sick/Disability Days Per Year (2012)

Jursidiction Government Non-Government
QC 12.2 8.5
MB 12.1 7.1
BC 12 7.4
NS 12 8.4
PEI 11.3 6.3
SK 11 6.9
NB 10.7 7.1
NL 10.7 7.9
AB 9.1 5.6
ON 8.8 5.8
Fed 17.9 6.7

Source: Canadian Taxpayers Federation

(Photo courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Are you a politics junkie?
Follow @politicalpoints on Twitter!