TOUGH LOT: Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick defends public servants when tabling the report on Monday. Photo: Katherine Griffiths
The Public Service Commission says it now has solid evidence there is no ''sickie culture'' in the federal bureaucracy.
''Unscheduled absence'' was on the rise again in the service in 2012-13, according to the State of the Service Report, with the median amount of time off up half a day to 11.6 days for each public servant during the year.
But Public Service Commissioner Stephen Sedgwick says the causes are more complex than the traditional Australian sickie and that many bureaucrats were showing up for work despite feeling unwell or carrying injuries.
The key factor behind the increased rate of unscheduled absence was more public servants taking carer's leave although sickies still accounted for the bulk of days off in the bureaucracy.
''The bulk of the change was in carers' leave, though the dominant share of unscheduled absence remains sick leave,'' Mr Sedgwick said.
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But the commissioner cited evidence from this year's employee census indicating public servants were a tougher bunch than popularly supposed.
''Data from the employee census indicates that almost half of the APS workforce reported they attended work while not feeling well - they were either ill or injured - in the fortnight prior to the survey,'' Mr Sedgwick told a pre-publication briefing.
''A large proportion of these employees, over 40 per cent, reported there was no loss of productivity due to their illness or injury.
''Their willingness to work however, is hardly consistent with a view sometimes heard there is a sickie culture in the Australian Public Service.
''Indeed this data highlights the individual nature of employee health and wellbeing, including any unscheduled absence and provides further evidence of the commitment and motivation of the Australian Public Service workforce.''
But the commission is still having trouble pinning down service-wide causes of high levels of unscheduled absences and was increasingly encouraging managers to tackle the problem workplace by workplace.
''The data … suggests that the causes of unscheduled absences are likely to be agency and possibly even work-group specific,'' Mr Sedgwick said.
The commission intends to continue its efforts to find a solution to the high number of days off being taken.
''We intend to go out to the agencies who have experienced a big increase, or whose rates of unscheduled absences are relatively high, and ask them to look again at their data and their practices to see what we can learn again about what works and what doesn't work,'' he said.
''But I have to say that each time we've done this previously, the answers varied enormously; what worked in one place didn't work in another.''