Council Sick Leave Costing £14m

Sick leave among council workers is higher in Northern Ireland than in England and the civil service, according to the Audit Office. In the past year, absenteeism among staff cost £14m in lost productivity.

Fermanagh District Council had the best record. The worst record was in Larne where an average of 20 days per employee were lost every year. However, Larne Mayor Danny O’Connor said the figures were distorted as a number of staff were on long term sick.

“We have only 150 employees in total, so if we have three or four people off on long term sick it tends to add up,” he said. “We had people off for a year virtually, before their retirement, it mounts up. If we were to take the long term sick statistics out of the figure, the rest would probably compare favourably with any other district council in Northern Ireland.”

The report examined absenteeism between 2003 and 2006 in the 26 councils over a three-year period. Not only did Larne council have the worst record, it also experienced the largest rise in days lost, an increase from 15 days per full-time worker to 20.

Fermanagh had the lowest average absentee rate, with eight days per year. That rate was at least twice as high in some councils. These included Craigavon, Derry City Council, Carrickfergus, and Newry and Mourne. Belfast was not far behind, with workers failing to come to work 15 days per year.

While there was a sharp rise in days lost at Moyle District Council, improvements were reported in Lisburn and Castelreagh councils. Overall, the absenteeism rate in councils is improving – and taken together it is the lowest for about five years. But the auditor found that in the past year alone the cost in lost productivity was around £14m.

The report also concluded that councils in Northern Ireland compare unfavourably with other sectors and with councils in England and Wales. Absentee rates in councils are also marginally higher than the Northern Ireland civil service. The report was also delayed because only five councils met the survey response deadline.