Northern Ireland

Civil service sick days cost taxpayer £22m

Image caption Sammy Wilson said the cost was unacceptable

The finance minister has hit out at civil service workers who "betray their own colleagues" after new figures show that sickness rates are costing the taxpayer £22.9m a year.

Sammy Wilson said the huge cost was "unacceptable in a time of austerity". He hit out at those who take sick leave when they are healthy.

The figures show staff took an average of 11 days off a year. But the Department of Social Development had the worst record. They took 14 days a year.

The Civil Service has failed to meet its targets on absence levels.

However, the report containing figures for 2008/09 found that 50% of staff took no sick days at all.

Mr Wilson commended those who never took a day off sick. He also pointed out that there was a 30% reduction in sickness rates.

But he asked: "Why should sickness go up on a Friday and Monday?" He condemned those who took sickness that was not genuine and cost the public purse.

"We have to continue to press down on those individuals, we cannot tolerate this," he said.

"Why should one department have a rate two and a half times bigger than another. Why should one age group be 60% more likely to catch flu than another?" he asked.

Brian Campfield, general secretary of the Civil Service Union, Nipsa, said there would always be a "small minority" who abused the system but this did not explain the sick figures.

"Where people have more autonomy and more control over decision making and their work environment, they are less likely to be out sick," he pointed out.

"People at the bottom suffer more stress. Women have a higher level of sickness and women are in the lower grades, predominantly."

Mr Campfield called for a more thorough investigation into the problem.

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