WATCH: The Harper government got an embarrassing reality check on a claim it made about sick leave in the federal civil service. The government claims it costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. Apparently, it doesn’t. Mike Le Couteur explains.
OTTAWA – It costs taxpayers almost nothing extra to pay sick leave to federal civil servants, says a new report from the Parliamentary Budget Office.
The report shows wide variances in the amount of sick leave taken from one department to another.
But Parliamentary Budget Officer Jean-Denis Frechette says most departments don’t have policies in place to backfill for sick leave.
“Since most departments do not call in replacements when an employee takes a sick day, there are no incremental costs,” said the report released Wednesday.
Exceptions to that finding include departments where absences have a direct impact on service levels, health and safety.
Correctional Service Canada, for example, is required to maintain minimum staffing levels for the protection of the public, staff and inmates at federal prisons.
But in most cases, the report said, federal employees who call in sick are not replaced, resulting in no additional cost to taxpayers over and above the regular salaries of public servants.
The findings come as a battle looms between Treasury Board President Tony Clement and public-sector unions over salaries and benefits.
The governing Conservatives are looking to cut the cost of public service salaries, pensions and sick leave as part of efforts to balance the federal budget by next year.
The PBO report found that sick leave can range from a low of 0.16 per cent of total departmental spending to 2.74 per cent on the other end of the scale.
The numbers are based on expenditures in the 2011-12 fiscal year.
The report also found that, in most cases, paid sick leave is proportional to departmental spending on regular wages.
In February the PBO published a report that estimated time lost due to illness in the federal civil service amounted to the equivalent of $871 million in regular wages in the 2011-12 period.
The latest report was compiled after a request from New Democrat MP Paul Dewar and looked at data from 20 departments.
It found that Correctional Service Canada, Human Resources and Skills Development Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency consistently reported the highest average number of paid sick days per employee.
All three departments have minimum staffing level requirements to maintain operations. The PBO said the findings also revealed that sick leave in each department as a share of departmental spending was in line with the percentage of wage costs.
“In other words, the more a department spends on wages, the more it spends on sick leave,” the report said.