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December 10, 2021

Do public sector workers deserve all those sick days?

In the general parlance of coffee shop complainery, perhaps no group is as reviled as government workers, who are not so much inefficient but also loaf, whine and go home to cushy salaries and pensions.

Of course, painting all public workers this way is not just unfair. It’s inaccurate, too. Yet such are the broad strokes many use.

In most ways, it is easy to spin this stereotype. You could cite, say, the country’s many nurses, who bust their asses, saving lives and all for modest public wages.

But then a report comes out on the number of sick days public sector workers take versus their private sector counterparts, and now everyone’s seeing red again.

Certainly, if you don’t work in the public sector, you’ve heard tales of its workers’ sick days, which by rumour appear to be an entitlement, not a safety net.

*Bing: How much is Stephen Harper’s salary?

Though the rumours just may be true.

According to the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), public sector workers in Canada take nearly five more sick, disability and personal days (referred to as “sick days” throughout this post) per year than those employed in the private sector.

Overall, public sector workers take 12.9 sick days per year. Private sector workers take just 8.2, on average.

Federal government employees enjoyed the most sick days, at 15.2 per year, reports the CFIB.

The report offers some interesting side points: among private sector companies, employees that work for businesses with fewer than 20 staff took 6.7 days off, while employees that work for businesses with more than 500 staff took 9.1 days off. That number’s still lower than the public sector figure, but it suggests that workers of smaller companies – where absences are more greatly noticed and accountability likely more rigidly enforced – most often slug it into work, no matter how they’re feeling.

Most glaring, though, is the discrepancy between sick days taken by public sector workers and those taken by private sector workers. According to the CFIB, the difference in those days – that is, the extra days taken by public sector workers – cost $3.5 billion each year, because many public sector workers can take a lump sum payment if they don’t use their allotted sick days.

“I don’t think anybody believes that public sector workers just get sick more often, yet something makes them feel entitled to more time off,” CFIB president and CEO Dan Kelly said.

“Obviously, we want to be compassionate when people are truly not well, but the current system has entrenched a feeling of entitlement of those days off that has very little to do with being sick.”

By Jason Buckland, 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...

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...