Living with monsters under the bed can be stressful. No wonder 6 out of 10 civil servants go on sick leave every year, for a cumulative average of just over two working weeks (11 days). Here are some of the highlights from the Comptroller & Auditor General's report on Managing Sickness Absences in the Civil Service:
- the average number of days that each employee was out sick ranged from almost five and a half days in the Department of the Taoiseach to nearly 16 days in the Property Registration Authority
- the percentage of staff who took sick leave ranged from 42% of staff in the Department of Arts, Sports and Tourism to 76.5% in the State Laboratory
- 42% of all instances of absence representing 9% of all days lost were uncertified by a doctor or unauthorised
- almost half of all sick days were taken by Clerical Officers and three quarters of all Clerical Officers availed of sick leave. The average number of days taken by each Clerical Officer was 16 days
- female staff absence accounted for 68% of all working days lost, the average number of sick days taken by each female employee was almost 14 days, while the average for each male employee was around eight days
- the average number of days lost for those working a three day week was almost 80% higher than the average for those who worked a standard week.
Or, more accurately, the 'carrot and bunch of carrots approach'. Hence the news today that public sector employees saw their average weekly earnings rise by 3.2% to €973.07 in the year to June (an 'inflation' adjusted increase of 8.6% allowing for deflation of 5.4% in the year to June). That's the carrot. Then there was the other C&AG report yesterday on Central Government Pensions which tells us that a) current public service pension liabilities stand at over €100 billion and that b) taxpayers will have to further contribute a net €157 billion on top of public servants own contributions (and an assumed continuation of the Pension Related Deduction (PRD) introduced in March this year). That's the bunch of carrots.
So where does this leave us? We now not only have a public sector that is extraordinarily privileged relative to their private sector counterparts: they are also increasingly aggrieved at perceived threats to their privileges. Instead of admitting they are part of the problem, public sector unions prefer to indulge in 'whataboutery'. "It was the nasty bankers and developers what caused the recession; we were just doing our jobs and innocently awarding ourselves double-digit pay increases and platinum-plated pensions; so we had nothing to do with it".
Until politicians and public sector union leaders are prepared to admit that you cannot support a 2007-size public sector on top of a 2001-size private sector then no amount of street protests will make any difference. But I don't expect that to happen any time soon. Politicians are already victims of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to public sector unions. Over-familiarity has blinded them to the unreasonableness of their captors' demands. Hence the tolerance for intolerable levels of sick leave.
Worse, we have an ageing public sector which has turned inwards, viewing the world through increasingly paranoid eyes. Irish civil servants are not unique in this regard mind. Here's the findings from a study of the level of risk aversion and altruism among public sector employees (ht Geary):
Summarizing, we have found clear support for the hypothesis that public sector employees are more risk averse than private sector employees. However, in contrast to our expectations, we have also found that public sector employees are on average less inclined to make charitable contributions than private sector employees. This effect is partly due to the fact that many more people in the public sector feel underpaid. Moreover, we have found that feelings of underpayment have much larger repercussions for the odds of donating to charity in the public sector than in the private sector, suggesting that public sector employees consider the contributions they make on the job as a substitute for charitable donations. Our findings suggest that many public sector employees feel that they already donate a lot to society by exerting effort on the job for relatively little pay and, therefore, are less willing to make any further contributions than their private sector counterparts. Lastly, we have found a clear effect of tenure on pro-social inclinations in the public sector, which arises independently of feelings of dissatisfaction about pay. As public sector employees’ tenure increases, they become less and less inclined to make charitable contributions, while there is no tenure effect for private sector employees.Like Charlie Haughey before them, they have done the State some service - and now they feel the state should service them in turn.
Still, they might be right. There might be a monster under the bed. One with the initials I.M.F. tattooed on its forehead. I hope it goes away.