In this time of supposed austerity in Canada and with the threats of public sector cutbacks at the federal and provincial levels, it's interesting to read a report by the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB) entitled "Calling in Sick: Comparing Days Away from Work in the Public and Private Sector". This report gives us a look at another facet of the workplace that differentiates those Canadians who work in the private sector from those who work for Canadian taxpayers. The data in the study is based on 2011 data from Statistics Canada. Let's go.
To start, here is a table from Statistics Canada showing the number of public sector employees in Canada in 2011 by employer (i.e. federal, provincial and municipal) and the wages paid:
Here is a graph showing the growing number of public sector employees over the past five years:
Public sector employees represent 20.2 percent of total employment in Canada, a very slight decline from the 20.6 percent level reached in the fourth quarter of 2009. Employment in the three levels of government accounts for 38.1 percent of the total, followed by 29.2 percent employed by educational institutions, 23.9 percent employed in health and social service institutions and 8.8 percent in government business enterprises.
Now, on to the sick day data. Here's a graphic showing how many "sick days" are taken by the public and private sector in Canada on average:
The majority of days off were due to sickness or disability with public sector workers taking 2.0 days off for "personal reasons" compared to 1.5 days for the private sector.
In case you wondered, there is a dramatic difference in the number of sick days taken for each level of government as shown here:
Federal government workers lose an average of 15.2 days per year to "illness" or just over a day and a quarter every month. This compares to 11.9 days per year or one day per month for provincial government workers. In contrast, private companies with more than 500 employees lose 9.1 days per year or three-quarters of a day per month and the "healthiest" employees at private companies with less than 20 employees lose only 6.7 days per year or just over half a day per month.
Not only do public sector employees take more sick days, many of them have sick leave provisions built into their union contracts that private sector employees can only dream about. Public sector employees in some provinces can accumulate sick days and, upon retirement, can receive a cash payout to a maximum of a half year of earnings. In Quebec, for example, nurses, health and social services employees and professionals and blue collar provincial government workers can accumulate sick days that can be used for early retirement. That's just like what happened to most of us who worked in the private sector, isn't it (he said, dripping with sarcasm).
Some suggest that public sector employees need more sick days because they are, on average, older than workers in the private sector. In fact, Statistics Canada data shows that the average age of public sector workers ranges between 43 and 45 whereas those in the private sector have an average age of 41. This is hardly a significant difference and does absolutely nothing to explain the difference in the number of sick days taken for the different levels of government.
How much is this costing Canadian taxpayers? CFIB research estimates that the additional five sick days taken by public sector is worth up to $3.5 billion in paid wages.
Perhaps the Harper and provincial governments, in their haste to achieve fiscal balance, would be wise to level the playing field between the private and public sectors when it comes to the number of allowable sick days. Elimination of the accumulation of sick days and accompanying cash payouts would go a long way to correcting this imbalance and make for a fairer workplace. After all, isn't it all about productivity? An absent employee is a non-productive employee.