Signage marks the Statistics Canada offices in Ottawa on Wednesday July 21, 2010. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Government employees in Prince Edward Island take 80 per cent more sick days than workers in the private sector, according to data released by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.
Employees of the federal, provincial and municipal governments in P.E.I. take an average of 11.3 days a year, while private sector workers take just 6.3.
P.E.I.'s average is also higher than the national average of sick days for public workers, which is 10.5 days.
The data was commissioned by the CTF and compiled by Statistics Canada.
Kevin Lacey, Atlantic director for the Canadian Taxpayers Federation, says the gap between public sector workers and their private counterparts is 'astonishing.'
“It should raise a lot of concerns for taxpayers who are paying for these sick days,” Lacey said.
“What it points to is there's not enough controls on the number of sick days that government employees are taking.”
Results of a federal treasury board survey released earlier this summer show Veteran's Affairs Canada (VAC) employees were off sick more than any other federal department between 2011-2012.
Workers at Veteran's Affairs, whose headquarters is in Charlottetown, took an average of 24.2 days off.
Jody LaPierre is the provincial director of the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) the union that represents the majority of federal employees in P.E.I.
He said the taxpayer's federation is trying to attack public sector workers with this data, which the union says is flawed.
The federation fails to mention that federal employees must exhaust any and all entitled sick days, even those that have gone unused and therefore are 'banked' every year, before they can access short or long-term disability, LaPierre said.
This would increase the overall average, as this is not the case for most private workers.
“They're comparing apples to oranges,” he said.
When looking specifically at Veteran's Affairs sick days, LaPierre believes the hundreds of job cuts over the last year are a big culprit. LaPierre is a VAC employee in the Charlottetown headquarters.
“It's not a coincidence that there's more people taking sick there due to the poison environment that they're under,” he said.
“There's so many people under stress, wondering if they're going to have a job... they've been one of the office departments hit the hardest by the (federal workforce) cuts.”
Treasury Board President Tony Clement announced in June plans to tackle high rates of employee absenteeism across the federal government.
Lacey said this and measures taken by the province of New Brunswick, which reduced its number of employee sick days this year by 2,300, are steps in the right direction.
He wants to see all levels of government tighten controls over sick days.
“There are people who are legitimately sick who should not be at work. But because the gap is so big between government workers and average taxpayers, it does raise concerns over who is sick and who is not sick.”