Cough cough: which public servants take the most days off?
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Cough cough: which public servants take the most days off?

Staff at the Department of Human Services took more sick days than any other public service agency in 2017-18, while the National Archives of Australia had the highest overall rate of unscheduled absences.

According to data released by the Australian Public Service Commission, the rate of unscheduled absences, which includes sick leave, carers leave and miscellaneous leave, has levelled out after rising to its peak in 2014-15.

The rate of unscheduled absences in the public service has remained stable over the past two years.

The rate of unscheduled absences in the public service has remained stable over the past two years.Credit:Shutterstock

In that year the rate hit 11.6 days on average per employee during the year, while in the years since the number dropped to 11.5 in 2015-16 and 11.4 in the two years since.

Large agencies are more likely to record unscheduled absences, at 12.5 per employee per year, compared to 10.5 in small agencies.

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Human Services staff took an average of 13.3 sick days in 2017-18, with staff at the National Archives taking 13 sick days per year and Comcare coming in third with 12.8 sick days per year.

The rate of unscheduled absences at the National Archives has skyrocketed in recent years, from 13.8 days in 2014-15, to 17.1 days in 2017-18.

Conversely, Aboriginal Hostels Limited has experienced a significant decrease over the same time, from 21.9 days in 2014-15 to 13.9 days in 2017-18.

The Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has experienced one of the most significant drops in the rate of unscheduled absences taken by its staff - from 14.9 days in 2015-16, to 14.5 in 2016-17 and 14 last year. In 2017 the department's staff voted up an agreement that included the requirement to provide a medical certificate if an employee missed work for three or more days in a row.

Most public service agencies offer 18 days of paid sick leave annually, above the 10 days required by the national employment standards. Requirements between agencies vary for how many consecutive days an employee can take off work without providing a medical certificate or other evidence.

According to the most up-to-date data released by the commission in 2017, 68 per cent of sick days taken by the public service were backed up by medical certificates.

The Future Fund Management Agency had the lowest number of unscheduled absences per person, at 4.8 in 2017-18. Unlike almost every other agency, the Future Fund Management Agency's employees are employed on individual contracts instead of under an enterprise agreement.

The Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority, which has faced upheaval due to its move to Armidale, has recorded an increase in unscheduled absences since 2014-15, from 13.2 days to 15.5 in 2017-18.

The 2013-14 State of the Service report included a chapter on absence management, including data showing the median rate of unscheduled absences was 9.4 in 2006-07, when the data was first recorded. The data collected in 2006-07 included sick leave, carer's leave, miscellaneous, unauthorised and compensation leave, while current data only includes sick leave, carer's leave and miscellaneous leave.

In that year the cost of unscheduled absences was estimated at about $500 million.

According to Direct Health Solutions, the rate of unscheduled absenteeism in the private sector was 9.5 days per year in 2016-17. The company's data comes from a survey of 122 organisations who were invited to take part, unlike the public service commission's data, which comes straight from human resources data.

Sally Whyte is a reporter for The Canberra Times covering the public service.

Markus Mannheim edits The Public Sector Informant and writes regularly about government.

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