The Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) issued a new report titled "Calling in Sick" that notes five extra public sector sick days is costing the Canadian taxpayers a few billion dollars each year.
Canadian public sector employees take an additional five disability, personal and sick days per year. This is more than workers in the private sector, which is on average 8.2 days annually. Furthermore, the report found that public sector workers can “bank” unused sick days, which can then be taken as a lump-sum payment or use for early retirement.
All of this is a hefty price-tag for taxpayers: up to $3.5 billion each year.
"I don't think anybody believes that public sector workers just get sick more often, yet something makes them feel entitled to more time off," said Dan Kelly, CFIB president and CEO, in a press release. “Obviously, we want to be compassionate when people are truly not well, but the current system has entrenched a feeling of entitlement to those days off that has very little to do with being sick."
The overall public sector average of time off is 12.9 days. Employees working in the federal government take the most time off than any other worker in Canada. The average is about 15.2 days per year, including reasons related to disability, personal and sickness.
Even when taking into account a business with 20 or fewer employees (does not include self-employed) that take on average 6.7 days off and a company of 500 or more employees that use 9.1 days, it’s still considerably lower than the public sector.
“We think sick days should be used only when you're sick," added Kelly. "The numbers suggest that's not always happening in the public sector, and that's not fair. We need to change the system so everybody's playing by the same rules."
- Align public sector sick day and leave with the private sector
- Get rid of or limit amassing sick days
- Prohibit the measure of unused sick days or vacation for early retirement
- Eliminate cash payouts for unused sick days or vacation
“It’s not going to be easy and what we’re saying is, ‘phase it out’,” said Doug Bruce, Vice President of Research at CFIB, in an interview with Digital Journal, who added that the recommendations should be implemented gradually and it wouldn’t be performed overnight.
Bruce provided one example that has helped taxpayers. After Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Finance Minister Jim Flaherty introduced this year’s federal budget, the government entered renegotiations with 27 collective agreements, which permitted the accumulation of severance that, according to Bruce, cost taxpayers billions of dollars.
However, the new deals do not include severance, but hundreds of thousands of public sector workers were eligible to collect severance payments while they still held onto their job. The total cost could add up to $1 billion.
Another method for the government to save money is to have all new incoming public servants adopt the new proposed policies. The government can “kind of have two tiers in public service,” added Bruce, who explained that Ottawa was also in talks this past summer to increase the normal retirement age in the public service from 60 to 65 for new civil servants starting in 2013.
He also added that it would be prudent to ask: why are federal public servants taking so many sick days?
“There’s a lot of politics and legalities involved and what we’re saying is do what we can. Realistically, phase it out over a period of years. The faster the better,” stated Bruce. “If it was brought down to the private sector norm, which would be 8.2 days, that would be a savings of $3.5 billion.”
When asked if the report has received a lot of criticism from public sector unions, he noted that after speaking with Digital Journal his next phone call would be with the Public Service Alliance Canada (PSAC).
This article was updated Dec. 4, 2012 at 12:45 p.m. to reflect Digital Journal’s interview with CFIB representative.