N.B. Finance Minister Blaine Higgs said reducing the number of sick days taken by civil servants would save taxpayers $20 million. (CBC)

Finance Minister Blaine Higgs is introducing a new program to cut down on absenteeism in the public service.

He said the attendance management program, which will ensure sick leave is used only when absolutely necessary, will protect sick leave benefits for government workers and save taxpayers money.

"[The attendance management program will] help us to achieve significant reductions in sick leave usage and protect the sick leave benefit for the circumstances when it is truly required," Higgs said.

The program will include training for government managers and it will establish workplace committees.

Higgs said he hopes to achieve a 20 per cent reduction in sick leave usage by March 31, 2015 which would result in savings of approximately $20 million.

Union not convinced sick leave being abused

Susie Proulx-Daigle, president of the New Brunswick Union of Public and Private Employees, met with provincial government representatives in late January about the new program.

She said she's not convinced that civil servants are abusing sick leave.

"Well I have yet to have been given examples so I don't have an opinion on that because for me right now I don't see any abuse," Proulx-Daigle said.

"I think if there's a rise in the absenteeism we need to look at what the causes are." 

Proulx-Daigle said if the number of sick days being taken is increasing it could be because departments are understaffed or underfunded.

"Is it a workload issue? I mean is there a healthy work environment? Is there bullying and harassment in workplaces that is being addressed or not?"

Proulx-Daigle said she is happy to sit down with government to discuss the issue and to look at possible solutions.

She had been hearing from many of her members, who say their co-workers aren't replaced when they call in sick and that is putting added pressure on those who remain.

"If we can have those discussions and bring light to those situations that may reduce significantly the usage of sick leave."

Proulx-Daigle said with positions being eliminated as people leave or retire, the workload for many civil servants is becoming too heavy. She said it may be time for the government to consider filling some of those jobs.

She said each bargaining group has negotiated different sick leave benefits.