Staff ‘sickies’ rise in Northern Ireland councils

26 Nov 10
Absenteeism has risen in Northern Ireland's councils, according to the chief local government auditor
By Vivienne Russell

26 November 2010

Absenteeism has risen in Northern Ireland’s councils, according to the chief local government auditor.

In a report published today, auditors say 122,000 days were lost to absenteeism in 2009/10, 700 more than the previous year.

But the average rate for individual employees fell slightly by 0.04 days from 12.43 in 2008/09.

Stress, depression and fatigue were cited as the biggest cause. The costs of lost productivity due to stress-related illness rose from £3.5m in 2008/09 to £3.6m in 2009/10. ‘Absences due to this cause of illness last more than five weeks on average,’ the report said.

It went on: ‘It is disappointing to note that in a period of improving absenteeism only 7 of the 19 councils were able to meet the 2009/10 absenteeism target they had set. Councils should ensure the targets are challenging but realistic.’

The auditor also noted that the way councils managed absenteeism varied.

‘We recommend that councils with high and rising absenteeism rate should review their own management practices and benchmark these against those of councils with low and falling absenteeism rates.’

Business leaders said the local government absenteeism rate was ‘excessive’ at almost double the levels found in the private sector.

‘This is costing local ratepayers millions of pound every year,’ said Nigel Smyth, director of CBI Northern Ireland.

‘The CBI believes councils must put in place more proactive and effective absence management policies. They must also review their occupational sick pay policies and conditions which act as a disincentive to return to work,’ he added.

‘CBI research has indicated that £45m per annum of savings could be achieved every year if the wider public sector across Northern Ireland reduced their absenteeism down to the levels within the private sector.’

But the Northern Ireland Public Service Alliance trade union hit back. Assistant general secretary Bumper Graham said: ‘Each year, when this statistical report is issued, those who oppose our public services come out and attack public sector workers. We do not hear them calling for workplace improvements or better management systems which would help to tackle sickness.’

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