Sick days in Canada's public service by department

The federal government has broken down how many sick days were taken by department, but the union once again argues those numbers are skewed.

Veterans Affairs leads all departments in sick days, according to 2011-12 government stats

Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced Monday the government wants to change how sick leave is managed in the public service. (The Canadian Press)

After the federal government announced it would overhaul the rules around sick days and disability leave in Canada's public service, unions began to quote statistics defending its employees.

On CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Tuesday, the Public Service Alliance of Canada argued the current plan works. Employment lawyer Sharaf Sultan said the move was not a surprise and aligns with rules for other public sector workers.

Later on Tuesday, the government countered with more numbers to back up its argument.

The Treasury Board has claimed the current plan for sick days is a $5 billion liability for the government. On Tuesday, it broke down the number of sick days during the 2011-12 fiscal year for federal public servants working for the 20 largest organizations under its watch.

Among about 86 per cent of the public service, the government said workers averaged more than 17 sick days.

The chart below ranks the average number of sick days taken, paid and unpaid, by department:

Treasury Board of Canada

DepartmentAvg. Sick days (paid and unpaid)
Veterans Affairs24.4
Human Resources and Skills Development Canada21.8
Canada Border Services Agency19.1
Indian Affairs and Northern Development19.1
National Defence18.6
Public Works and Government Services18.6
Fisheries and Oceans18.4
RCMP (civilian staff)18.1
Statistics Canada16.6
Correctional Service of Canada16.0
National Health and Welfare15.1
Natural Resources15.0
Transport14.6
Industry14.2
Agriculture and Agri-Food14.1
Citizenship and Immigration13.9
Public Health Agency of Canada13.2
Justice13.0
Environment12.6
Foreign Affairs and International Trade11.5
Total average17.4

The statistics include permanent employees, employees with terms of three months or longer and casual employees, according to the Treasury Board.

They do not include ministerial staff, census-takers, investigators, federal judges, deputy ministers, members of the Canadian Forces and RCMP, employees appointed by Governor in Council (more than 2,000 serving on more than 200 Crown corporations), employees engaged locally outside Canada and those not required to work more than one third of the normal work year.

The Public Service Alliance of Canada said combining paid and unpaid leave could be misleading, because unpaid leave was likely for long-term disability plans paid for by private insurance companies.

"It would be very interesting to have all the statistics he's using," said PSAC president Robyn Benson.

"That would be transparent, we would then know if he's mixing apples and oranges or he's talking apples and apples."

Union boycotts public service week

On Tuesday, PSAC said workers would boycott public service week, which runs from June 10-14, after Clement's announcement.

As the largest union for public sector workers, it claimed the current sick day plan does not cost the government as much as it claimed because most workers are not replaced when they are away.

PSAC also claimed the numbers are "just random averages" and they are "skewed by a small number of workers — like those in high risk and high stress workplaces such as correctional services — who need more time off."

"That number also includes workers with extended illnesses who are using up sick leave credits before qualifying for long-term disability," the union said.

Unions have not provided their own breakdown of statistics per department but they did say 95 per cent of federal workers do not use sick leave without pay.

The union also said, based on statistics they have seen, they believe federal public servants take between zero and eight days of paid sick leave per year.