17/06/2004

Councillor calls for analysis of public sector sick absence

A Belfast councillor has called for the Local Government Auditor to ask the Northern Ireland Audit Office to analyse sickness trends across Northern Ireland's public service.

Councillor Margaret Clarke, Chairman of the Belfast City Council’s Personnel Sub-Committee, said that it was vital to establish why local government had a "lost time" rate 20% higher than that in the rest of the UK, and why the difference between the Northern Ireland and the UK Civil Service was even greater.

Councillor Clarke said: “Belfast City Council is transparent with its sick absence figures, unlike many organizations, and as a result we are highlighted in the media as having a poor record, even though other employers have similar difficulties.

“The Council takes this problem seriously and has put in place a clear and well communicated policy and procedure for dealing with absence and has introduced a number of new measures.

“However, it is clear that sickness absence is not simply a Belfast City Council problem but that Northern Ireland’s local authorities and the Civil Service compare poorly to the rest of the United Kingdom’s local authorities."

Councillor Clarke was speaking as it was revealed that Belfast City Council’s absence rate for the year had risen slightly, from 14.22 days per person last year to 14.51 days in 2003/04.

However, the figures also show that almost one-third of staff, 30.7%, had no sickness absence at all, 25.8% had less than five days and 13.9% were absent for between five and ten days.

The figures indicate the Council has no short term sickness problem but long term absence - at 19.1% staff with more than 20 days illness - is where improvements are required, as this accounted for 63.1% of the total working days lost.

(MB)

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