ACT News

Public servants owe it to taxpayers to turn up on Monday, says ACCI chief Kate Carnell

Public servants in Canberra have an obligation to taxpayers and their colleagues to show up to work on Monday, former ACT Chief Minister Kate Carnell says.

Australia's Day off

With the national holiday landing on a Tuesday this year, many will be planning on chucking a sickie on Monday.

Ms Carnell, now chief executive of the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, is urging workers around the country not to give themselves a long weekend by taking a sickie on Monday, the day before the Australia Day public holiday. 

Monday is looming as a quiet day at workplaces across Canberra; the construction industry will not operate with a "lockdown day" declared and many territory and Commonwealth public servants are expected to take the day off too.

Kate Carnell says her greatest failure was not getting workplace laws on the political agenda.
Kate Carnell says her greatest failure was not getting workplace laws on the political agenda. Photo: Louise Kennerley

But it is the prevalence of sickies, or "unscheduled absences", as they are known in the bureaucracy, that is bothering the Chamber of Commerce which fear that that up to 180,000 sickies could be chucked around Australia, costing employers as much as $62 million.

"The public sector has an obligation to the people who pay their salaries to do the right thing and also to their fellow workers," Ms Carnell said.

"When people who take unplanned days off when they're not sick, the work then falls to their colleagues.

"In the public sector context, you have an obligation to the taxpayer and to your colleagues too, not to make their lives more difficult by inappropriately taking sickies, particularly around times like this.

"Tuesday is a holiday, it's summer, a nice time to be off.

"That's fine. 

"Take a day's holiday."

The former Canberra Liberals leader advised employers, both in the private and public sectors, to have a frank discussion with workers about who wanted to take time off on Monday.

"I said to my staff a couple of weeks ago 'there's this Monday and what I need is for those of you who want a long weekend to give me your leave form now so we can plan around it'," Ms Carnell said.

"Those of you who don't want to take a leave day, could you please turn up at work."

"So we dealt with the issue and I think it's important for employers to have that discussion with staff, to make it clear that anyone calling in on Monday and claiming a sickie will have to provide a medical certificate because you really really are going to have to be sick."

The Chamber of Commerce said that bosses should take a tough line with employees who abuse the trust placed in them by pretending to be sick.

"Sick leave is an employee benefit specifically meant to be used when workers are ill," Ms Carnell said.

"Apart from abusing the trust of their employers and imposing additional tasks on their colleagues, workers who illegitimately take sickies can leave themselves financially exposed when they actually fall ill if they have already exhausted their entitlement to sick leave. 

"Employers have a right to request evidence from employees claiming sick leave such as medical certificates, and if workers exploit the entitlement, we will likely see more employers request these.

"Workplaces should operate on the basis of mutual respect and trust.

"Reasonable employers will not begrudge their staff having a well-earned break but it needs to be done the right way."

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