HALIFAX -- The union representing tens of thousands of public-sector workers across Canada says the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) is misleading the public about sick days.
The CFIB’s report, Calling in Sick, claims that public-sector workers on average take between four and five more days off per year than private-sector workers for illness, disability and personal reasons.
But Jeannie Baldwin, executive vice-president for the Atlantic region of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC), says this isn’t because public-sector employees “feel entitled to more time off,” as CFIB president Dan Kelly said in a press release this week.
“The fact that absenteeism in the private sector is low is nothing to be proud of,” says Baldwin. “The numbers are low because private sector employees are forced to go to work sick. They can’t afford to stay home.”
The PSAC’s media release also says that private-sector “employees [are] not benefiting from adequate sick leave provisions. They are forced to go to work while sick, putting the health of their coworkers at risk.”
As well, notes the release, days off taken for long-term disability are not tracked in the private sector in the same way as in the public sector, further skewing the numbers.
In an op-ed piece recently published on the PSAC website, national president Robyn Benson says that uncertainty about public service cuts in recent months has led to a huge “spike in mental health problems” among public servants.
This “toxic environment” in the workplace is taking a huge toll on workers, says the PSAC.
“[T]he CFIB overlooks a key factor in the increase in sick leave in the federal public service,” says Jeannie Baldwin. “And that is the rise in mental illness and stress-related sickness due to overwhelming job insecurity.”
Since the 2012 federal budget 19,355 PSAC members (out of about 172,000 nationwide) have received Work Force Adjustment notices, known as ‘affected’ letters, informing them they may lose their jobs.
In the Atlantic region, a recent report by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives says federal public-sector job cuts will have a disproportionate effect, with more than 4,400 employees put out of work by 2015. Besides direct job losses, the cuts will have a negative impact on public services remaining employees are able to deliver.
PSAC’s media release also says that contrary to the CFIB’s assertions, “sick leave cannot be cashed and is not a liability for the taxpayer.”