Department of Human Services using 'attendance plans' to combat public service sickies

Public servants taking sickies at the Commonwealth's largest department are entitled to tell bosses inquiring into their absences to mind their own business, a union says.

The giant Department of Human Services, which has one of the worst sickie records in the public service, is trying to get serial absentees onto "attendance plans" in order to cut its high rate of no-shows.

But the main workplace union is pushing back against the new regime, telling its members at DHS that they are entitled to privacy when they are asked about personal leave.

The news comes as bosses at the Agriculture Department, another Canberra outfit with a serious no-show problem, battles for the right for its managers to ask for medical certificates from employees who call in sick.

DHS, which runs Centrelink and Medicare, has an even bigger problem than Agriculture in getting its public servants to show-up to work, and it is getting worse.

Human Services workers took more than three weeks and one day, on average, in "unscheduled absence" in the 2015-16 financial year, a slight increase from the previous 12 months.


These figure compare badly against an Australian Public Service average of just 11.5 days per year and the average of large departments and agencies of 12.5 days per year.

But more than half of the public servants at Human Services took fewer than 10 days, on average, indicating a serious problem among a minority of employees.

The department said it did not know how many workers had been put on attendance plans had been and would not say how long the tactic had been in use.

But a spokesman said the plans were part of a suite of measures designed to try to get Human Services' sickie problem under control.

"The use of attendance plans is one of a suite of tools used by the department to support managers to work collaboratively with staff to maintain a positive attendance culture and reduce unscheduled absences," the spokesman said

"The department does not mandate the use of attendance plans and does not centrally collect data on their usage.

"Anecdotal evidence indicates, however, that the use of attendance plans can help staff, particularly when they are returning to work as a result of illness."

But the Community and Public Sector Union sees a sinister side to the attendance plan push and has issued a guide to its members who find themselves under pressure about their attendance.

The union says it is fair enough for bosses to ask questions if they suspect entitlements are being misused, but workers must not be pressured into signing attendance plans.

"First and foremost the department must protect your privacy," a union bulletin advised workers.

"You do not have to disclose personal information such as an illness.

"DHS can not take adverse action against you if you used personal leave legitimately.

"Attendance plans or support plans are not in your enterprise agreement and you don't have to sign a plan."


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