Government proposes new program to replace public service sick leave policy

OTTAWA – The federal government wants to revamp its sick leave and disability policies for the public service in an effort to reduce high levels of absenteeism.

A new short-term disability program would replace the present system of banked sick days, Treasury Board President Tony Clement told a news conference Monday.

The existing long-term disability program, which kicks in after 13 weeks of illness, would also be changed to address the problems of the modern workplace, he added.

Clement said the existing system dates back to the 1970s, when some workplace problems, such as mental illness and depression, were largely ignored.

“A more robust disability management system will emphasize prevention and rehabilitation, and will also include enhanced support for current and emerging health issues like mental illness, which was not adequately recognized 40 years ago but now represents more than half of all disability claims in the Canadian workplace,” he said.

The minister said public servants average 18.2 days of paid and unpaid sick leave every year, compared with an average of 6.7 days in the private sector.

“The public service suffers from exceedingly high levels of absenteeism, which is unsustainable for any employer looking to run a high-performing and productive workforce.”

Clement said the new programs would be more efficient and effective than the present system, while also offering fairer treatment to employees. For example, the system of banking sick leave favours longer-term employees over new hires and younger workers.

“It’s time we fix an inefficient system that doesn’t work for employees, who need the support, or for Canadian taxpayers, who are footing the bill.”

The details of the new systems will have to be negotiated with government unions, Clement added.

The major public service unions have traditionally been very cool to major changes in benefit programs.

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