Nova Scotia government workers some of the sickest in Canada
Taxpayer group says employees 'abusing' number of sick days
Nova Scotia's civil servants are among the sickest in Canada, according to numbers supplied to CBC News by the province.
In 2012-2013, the average number of days provincial government employees used as illness and family days was 12.65, but the number varies greatly from department to department.
Employees in Communications Nova Scotia averaged the fewest number of illness and family days at 4.61, while justice department employees missed over 3.5 times more, 16.76 days.
Not far behind was Community Services' workers with an average of 16.26 sick days.
Steven Feindel, executive-director of client service delivery for the province's Public Service Commission, said the variances are in line with what they expect to see.
The numbers are really staggering and it really shows that some people are really abusing this entitlement of sick day.- Kevin Lacey
He said some jobs have more physical demands, longer hours or shift work. Other workers may be exposed to illnesses or weather conditions.
"I didn't say they were acceptable because we are working on reducing absences across the boards and individually in some departments," he said.
The Atlantic Canadian director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation said provincial government employees are "abusing" the number of days they take for illness and family days.
"The numbers are really staggering and it really shows that some people are really abusing this entitlement of sick days," said Kevin Lacey.
"Nova Scotia government employees take some of the most sick days of any government employees anywhere in Canada and that's why it’s so important that we make this an issue and challenge and change it."
Sick and Stressed
The province said lost time costs about $26 million per year. Feindel said that price tag comes from lost productivity and having to find people to fill in for some workers.
"We know it's significant and that's why we're working on a program constantly trying to make sure that we bring those costs down as much as possible recognizing you never get to zero," he said.
The Public Service Alliance of Canada does not think abuse is taking place. Rather, it is because of cuts that government employees are in an overworked system and sick and stressed out.
"If the numbers are so high, then why are they so high?" said Jeannie Baldwin, the Alliance's regional executive vice-president.
"Is it because they're not able to manage or is it because they don't have the resources in there to be able to do the work that they do because that’s what happens. If you can't get the resources to be able to do the work that needs to be done, people get sick, people get stressed."
The average number of 12.65 is in line with the Canadian public sector average and is below that of the federal government average, which was 15.2 to 18.2 days in 2011-2012, according to the Nova Scotia government.
However, it is above that of the private sector, which was about eight days.
According to 2013 Statistics Canada numbers, Nova Scotia is one of the top provinces when it comes to days lost per worker.
Feindel says the province is working on early intervention, trying to prevent people from getting stressed out to the point where they need to take a day off.
"Are there abuses? We have systems and reporting in place to make sure that we can look for patterns of that and constantly improve the way managers can watch for that to ensure that that’s not happening," he said.
Still, Feindel stressed people who are actually sick should stay away from work.