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November 15, 2021

Absenteeism among federal public service workers skyrockets

Skipping work without good reason? It seems you have lots of company.

The absenteeism rate among Canadian workers has been increasing steadily in the past decade, rising to 6.6 days per full-time employee in 2008–09 from 5.7 days in 2000–01, according to a recent Conference Board of Canada study.

Who’s been leading the pack? Federal public servants, it seems, a group that’s been taking time off work at a dramatically accelerating rate, the Ottawa Citizen reports.

Over the past decade, the average number of days off taken per year by each federal employee, excluding vacation days and public holidays, has ballooned by 40 per cent, the Citizen claims.

In the 2000-01 fiscal year, federal public servants averaged 12.1 days off per year in non-vacation leave. That figure swelled to 16.9 days in 2008-09, a number that Canadian Taxpayers Federation head Kevin Gaudet, calls "alarming".

Some of the increase can be attributed to a rise in sick leave, which accounts for nearly one-third of the total number of days off that bureaucrats take each year. Total sick days taken per employee grew by 26 per cent during the decade under review, rising from 8.8 days per employee in 2000-01 to 11.1 days per employee last fiscal year.

During the same period, "uncertified" sick leave — leave without a doctor's note — surged by 74 per cent, from 4.1 days per employee to 7.1 days, the Citizen notes.

All of which suggests that federal workers are getting too sweet a deal, says Edmonton Journal columnist Lorne Guntner.

"I'm not arguing that all public servants are overpaid layabouts. I'm just tired of this notion that civil servants are somehow overworked, underpaid serfs. They are very well paid for the amount of work they do and the kind of responsibilities they have."

If only they went to work more often.

Is absenteeism up where you work? How come? Does the public and private gap surprise you at all? Or are such comparisons unfair to begin with?

By Gordon Powers, MSN Money



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Gordon PowersGordon Powers

A long-time fund company executive, Gordon Powers now heads up the Affinity Group, a financial services consulting firm. Gordon was a personal finance columnist for the Globe & Mail for many years, has taught retirement planning...

James HaversJames Havers

James is the senior editor of MSN Money living in Toronto. He has worked for the Nikkei Shimbun (Tokyo),,, Canadian Business and other publications. Havers turned to journalism after teaching overseas.

Jason BucklandJason Buckland

The modern-day MC Hammer of money, Jason can often be seen spending cash that isn’t his with the efficiency of a Wilt Chamberlain first date. After cutting his teeth as a reporter for the Toronto Sun, he joined the MSN Money team with...