There were over 8000 applications for sick leave from public servants, permanent and temporary, during 2017. And in total, the service recorded a whopping 61288 days in days lost to work because of illness.
This worrying trend continues to be a major headache for Government and a drain on the country’s finances.
According to the 2018 Public Sector Report the granting of sick leave in that sector has “grown out of control” while continually depleting government expenditure.
In referencing the Auditor General’s 2017 Report, it said five MDAs [Ministries, Departments and Agencies] had at the end of December 2017 amassed approximately $3.8 million in overdrawn salaries due to absences arising from sick leave.
According to available records, between January 1, 2017 and December 31, 2017, permanently appointed officers made 6126 applications for leave of absence due to sick leave.
The total number of days granted arising from those applicants was 49, 788.
As it related to temporary workers, 2247 sick leave applications were received, resulting in 11 500 days taken as sick leave.
“The frequency of sick leave by public officers is not only now becoming an integral part of the public service culture, but that the situation has become abusive.
“It represents a serious burden on the financial system because of the loss of man days or with the payment of substitutes…” the report stated.
But acting General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers (NUPW) Delcia Burke told Barbados TODAY while she had not yet seen the report, a large number of public officers were forced to go on sick leave due to poor working conditions at their respective places of employment.
“There are quite a number of persons in the public service who have become very ill based on the conditions of the buildings that they work in and I don’t think anybody is looking at that.
“Immigration has now moved out but we have people in Immigration, one or two, who will never be 100 per cent better again because of the conditions in which they work, and that is only one department,” Burke said.
“While I understand you are going to have persons who are going to be malingering, there are a lot of persons in the public service with illnesses which came about as a result of Government not maintaining the buildings in which they work.”
The report also found that public officers utilized sick leave not only when they were ill, but also to attend to personal matters such as deaths and funerals, personal appointments and child-related matters.
“Provisions therefore need to be enhanced to encourage officers to take sick leave only for the purpose for which it is intended, that is, when they are ill,” it stated.
The report suggested that the number of sick days for permanently appointed officers be reduced from 21 to 14, with seven days allotted to personal days.
Likewise for temporary employees it be reduced from 14 to seven, with seven days allotted to personal days.
The report also charged that MDAs did not always follow the existing statutory and administrative arrangements for the management of sick leave absences.
It also took issue with the length of time taken for cases to be heard by the Medical Board.
According to the report between January 1, 2017 and August 31, 2018, approximately 307 files were submitted to the Chief Medical Officer of Health. To date, only 174 have been returned, leaving 133 outstanding.
Among the seven recommendations made by the report to reduce the incidences of sick leave, especially for long periods, was for there to be a period of one year maximum for extensions of sick leave for appointed officers and for the current practice of granting extensions for an additional six months to be discontinued.
“It will be necessary to seek the advice of the Solicitor General on the legal implications, if any exist, that may confront the Government should the current practice be discontinued where officers are granted after a period of one year of sick leave on full pay, an additional period of six months’ sick leave on half pay,” the report said.
It also suggested that a timeframe to be established for the medical board to meet and submit its reports on officers and for workers who refuse to submit themselves to the medical board for examination and evaluation when required, to be sanctioned.
The report also called for provisions to be introduced to encourage public officers not to take sick leave indiscriminately and for systems and procedures to manage absences within ministries and departments to be improved.