Government workers’ sick days fall by a staggering 20 per cent during the pandemic

Government workers’ sick days have fallen by as much as 45 per cent during 2020 compared to last year.

The sharp decline has prompted questions as to how Australian public servants managed to dodge illness and achieve higher health outcomes than in previous years during a global pandemic.

When responding to questions asked by Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie, the Department of Home Affairs said there was a 21 per cent decrease in sick days between March and October.

Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie (pictured) said the drop in the number of sick days requires further investigation

Victorian Nationals senator Bridget McKenzie (pictured) said the drop in the number of sick days requires further investigation

Where 114,088 sick days were taken during the same period in 2019, just 89,636 were taken this year, The Australian reported.

The government defence department also saw a 21 per cent decline and the Australian Federal Police saw a 19 per cent drop, while employees at Tourism Australia called in sick 45 per cent less than they did last year. 

Senator McKenzie told the publication that a ’20 per cent decrease in sick leave across the public service obviously requires further investigation as to why, this year of all years, people were in better health than in previous years’. 

She added that she would be asking individual departments about the figures. 

The decline has promoted questions as to how Australian government workers managed to dodge illness and achieve higher health outcomes during the pandemic (Parliament House pictured)

The decline has promoted questions as to how Australian government workers managed to dodge illness and achieve higher health outcomes during the pandemic (Parliament House pictured)

Former public service commissioner John Lloyd said the public sector has a ‘higher incidence’ of sick leave than the private sector and was not surprised by the findings.

He added that the figured indicate workers had been taking sick leave when they were perfectly healthy.

‘Sick leave has always been a concern of mine, that it was often taken for reasons other than being ill,’ he said. 

‘Now, of course, flexibility has increased through working from home, the requirement to take sick leave, or incidence has obviously decreased.’

The Department of Home Affairs saw a 21 per cent decrease in sick days between March and October

The Department of Home Affairs saw a 21 per cent decrease in sick days between March and October

He said workplace flexibility should be maintained beyond the pandemic.  

Managers at the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission had 35 per cent less staff calling in sick in 2020 and staff at the Australian Skills Quality Authority had 34 per cent fewer sick days.

The CSIRO recorded a 20 per cent decline in the number of sick days compared with 2019.

In his annual report, Australian Public Service Commissioner Peter Woolcott said the commission implemented flexible working conditions to keep employees safe during the pandemic.

The measures included  social-distancing measures and increased working-from-home arrangements, allowing for greater productivity across departments.

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