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      Treasury Board president Tony Clement has suggested that public servants are abusing the current sick-leave system, leading to higher rates of absenteeism among federal bureaucrats than their counterparts in the private sector.

      Public servants take similar amount of sick days as private sector: Report

      OTTAWA—A report from the Parliamentary Budget Office will find no significant difference between paid sick leave in the public and private sectors, the Star has learned.

      The report, to be released by the PBO in Ottawa on Thursday, is expected to show that public servants take a similar amount of paid sick days as counterparts in comparable private sector organizations.

      The findings complicate Treasury Board President Tony Clement’s position that public servants are abusing the current sick-leave system, leading to higher rates of absenteeism among federal bureaucrats than their counterparts in the private sector.

      Sources with knowledge of the report said it will dispute Treasury Board claims that public servants take an average of 18.2 paid and unpaid days off annually, saying the number includes things like long-term disability, work place injuries, or unpaid sick leave.

      Unions have already taken issue with that estimate, putting the number closer to 11 days a year. The Public Service Alliance of Canada, which represents approximately 180,000 unionized workers, claims a relatively small amount of long-term disability claims drastically skew the Treasury Board numbers.

      The PBO’s analysis will likely become an important baseline for the debate between Clement and the 27 bargaining units heading into contract talks with Ottawa in 2014. Clement has made sick-leave reform the main point of those contract talks, while unions are digging in their heels and vowing to fight any changes.

      “We’re not in a race to the bottom, and we’re not in concession bargaining. We’re not prepared to give up our sick leave,” Robyn Benson, the national president of PSAC, said in an interview Wednesday.

      “We have time and time again said that Mr. Clement is incorrect. Our members do not abuse sick leave . . . . Mr. Clement has said we use upwards of 18 days a year when we only actually earn 15.”

      Benson said the Treasury Board has not made the case that there is any issue with the current system in their push for reforms — including explaining their estimate of 18 sick days per year.

      “It’s always very interesting when the government puts out numbers, and then we ask how they come up with it and they don’t have an answer for us,” Benson said. “And we asked the question, and will continue to ask the question, what’s wrong with our sick leave benefits now?”

      Clement did not respond to the Star’s request for comment.

      The Treasury Board president signalled the Conservatives’ desire to crack down on “exceedingly high absenteeism” in the public service in June 2013.

      According to Treasury Board briefing notes, the government feels the current system lacks effective oversight that “can sometime lead to abuses.”

      In the face of pushback from unions, Treasury Board is now looking for private sector consultants to examine their proposed reforms and help sell them to bureaucrats.

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      The PBO report is expected to show that the overall cost of sick-leave benefits has increased over the last number of years, but not simply due to an increase in the number of days public servants call off. Higher salaries compared to previous years, as well as an increase in the total number of workers in the core public service over the last decade, also play a part.

      Salaries and benefits amount to the largest single operating expense for the federal government, coming in at approximately $43 billion annually.

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