Treasury Board President Tony Clement says federal workers take more sick days than employees of other governments or the private sector, signalling a sick-leave showdown in collective bargaining. Readers, print and digital, take the issue’s temperature
Re Public Servants Can’t Feel The Love (June 14): It seems that for some who work in the private sector, anyone who is paid through their tax dollars works on easy street. Public servants have reason to identify with the late Rodney Dangerfield, whose shtick included the frequent refrain, “I don’t get no respect.”
Ann Sullivan, Peterborough, Ont.
A rampant disease called “entitlement” is plaguing the public service. It’s no wonder they’re sick so often.
Bryan Donkersgoed, Guelph, Ont.
The government would rather talk about federal-government sick leave than the Senate scandal, so instead of kicking off Public Service Week by recognizing the important work that federal-government employees do for Canadians, it accused them of milking the system.
Federal-government workers can’t cash out sick leave; workers must leave any unused sick leave behind when they retire. When Treasury Board President Tony Clement says that, on average, federal-government workers take 18 sick days a year, he’s lumping in the majority, who likely take between zero and eight days, with those who are seriously ill and on long-term disability.
Our long-term-disability insurance providers say that about 8,000 of the people receiving disability are no longer employees, because they have been terminated for incapacity or are medically retired. Clearly we need a better breakdown of the data to know what’s actually going on. You can’t get an accurate picture by averaging apples and oranges.
If the government wants to talk about improving sick leave, they can propose that when we get to the bargaining table next year.
In the meantime, let’s get back to the issue of who’s really milking the system, and get some accountability.
Robyn Benson, national president, Public Service Alliance of Canada
A small but welcome step from the federal government in bringing civil servants in line with the majority of working people. The government shouldn’t stop here, it should keep going.
Rod Stenning, London, Ont.
In the late 1970s and 1980s, as chief of personnel at a taxation centre, I was appalled to find that among the 1,000 plus permanent employees, sick leave averaged 12.5 days a year, compared to the then overall average for public servants of seven days.
I insisted all employees calling in sick must personally call their manager by 8 a.m. I told managers their performance reviews would be affected if they did not lower the number of employee sick-leave days taken. They had to interview employees with sick-leave records of more than seven days a year and give them a standard Letter of Information listing every day taken. In almost every case, there was an abnormal use of Fridays and Mondays.
The employee was told that in future, if they called in sick, they had to produce a doctor’s certificate, otherwise they would be docked pay.
They were also told that continued abuse could ultimately result in dismissal; I initiated successful dismissals against two long-term offenders with horrendous records. Within four months, the rate of sick leave dropped from 12.5 days to 6.5 days.
A similar program today could bring public servants back to earth. It would take guts and determination by managers justifying their big salaries.
Jerry Blumenschein, Victoria
By all means, do something to limit costs. Sick days are for illness, not extra vacation.
But it might still be worthwhile to have a system that allows employees who are rarely off sick to bank some percentage of unused days as insurance against the possibility of a freak accident, sudden unpredictable illness or similar occurrence.
Sean Morency, Ottawa
I know tons of people in the private sector who abuse sick days, short-term and long-term disability. Why do we focus only on the public sector? Human nature is human nature, regardless of the sector. Managers need to manage people who abuse sick leave and reward people who don’t.
Neena Gupta, Kitchener, Ont.
Some years past, my Swedish research partner Ulla Ressner and I were engaged by the government of Sweden, through its national Work Life Research Centre in Stockholm, to examine the frequency of sick absenteeism by public sector workers.
I suspect that the findings of that three-year work life audit (Social Revision av ett Ämbetsverk) have many similarities to the situation of public sector workers in most advanced industrial societies, including Canada.
One of the significant findings of that study was that the real problem in terms of employee illness and absenteeism in the public sector was not that employees took excessive and undeserved sick leaves, but rather the striking extent to which public sector workers went to work, even though they were not well and had every right to be absent.
The primary reason they did this was out of a feeling of personal solidarity with co-workers who would have to cover their work if they were absent, and out of solidarity with those members of the public who were depending upon their assistance through the public services they were providing.
This federal government seems more interested in using the public service as a whipping boy in its self-serving propaganda than in established social facts. But what role does science have to play, considering that in Canada the world was made in six days?
John A. Fry, Victoria
It would be helpful if Ottawa would lead by example. No indexed benefits. No special status. How about all public positions – including elected – use RRSPs. I’m pretty sure what ails the system would be addressed if we had a level playing field.
Peter Stanfield, Toronto
In the article Greece Scraps Its Public Broadcaster (June 12), I was struck by your subhead referring to Greece’s “bloated civil service.”
I wonder why terms such as “bloated” seem to be used mainly to describe the public sector. I don’t recall the last time I heard the business or financial sector – of any country – described as “bloated.”
Carl Rosenberg, Vancouver
ON REFLECTION More letters to the editor
The Dad of my youth
I’ve returned to Toronto after 30 years in the U.S. I travel in my job, so appointments linked to a new home could have been a nightmare. But Dad, 85, has been my go-to general contractor and appointments person. He has a new full-time job caring for me.
I feel blessed being home with family, but seeing Dad as the father of my youth has been such a special gift. He always supported, guided and taught us, I’d just forgotten what it was like to embrace it. Happy Father’s Day to all dads, young and old.
Marilyn Raymond, Toronto
Sense and Syria
Re U.S. To Arm Rebels After Confirming Syrian Regime Used Chemical Weapons (June 14): Let’s see, levelling the playing field in a raging civil war that is replete with atrocities on both sides, so neither side can soon prevail, thus prolonging the carnage indefinitely. Makes perfect sense.
Alan Rutkowski, Victoria
Re Feud Punishes Children’s Games (June 14): Coach Eric Pilon says the Ontario Soccer Association is wrong to withhold travel permits for 20 teams set to play in a weekend tournament near Montreal: “Suspending a 9-year-old girls’ team does nothing to get the situation resolved.” Wrong.
When the Quebec Soccer Federation’s no-turban rule limits opportunities to play for all children in Quebec, not just Sikh boys, the QSF will find itself under pressure from the stakeholders who matter to it to let Sikh boys play.
Jasmine Akbarali, Toronto
Re Prostitution Challenge Focuses On Choice (June 14): So federal prosecutor Michael Morris feels that some prostitutes “operate on a diminished moral capacity”?
Mr. Morris’s assertion is specious, at best. I’m quite sure many people would say the same about lawyers.
Tony Hoffmann, Toronto