Northern Ireland

NI public sector sick leave increase 'disappointing' - Hamilton

Image caption More than half of civil servants did not take any sick days off during the year

An increase in the number of sick days taken by civil servants in Northern Ireland is "disappointing", Finance Minister Simon Hamilton has said.

The average figure was 10.6 days per year in 2012/13, up from 10.1 days in the previous year.

The Department of Finance's target is 9.5 days.

The majority of days lost - 70.7% - were because of long-term illness. Just over one in 10 staff were absent for three months or more.

However, more than half of staff did not have any sick days off, according to figures released by the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency.

'Key priority'

Mr Hamilton said this was "encouraging", but overall, the rise in sick days taken was "very disappointing news, given that for a number of years we have seen a steady downward trend in the level of sickness absence".

He added: "I am satisfied however that this reverse in trend does not reflect any dilution in the focus across NI departments to tackle the sickness absence problem.

"Managing attendance and reducing sick absence is a key priority for departments, and clearly our work must continue and indeed intensify in some areas to ensure that the targets which are set out in the Programme for Government are achieved."

As in previous years, the main reason for absence - 29.8% - was anxiety, stress, depression or other psychiatric illness. Almost a third of this figure was due to work-related stress.

Bumper Graham of the union Nipsa said long-term sick absences were decided by doctors rather than individuals, and the high levels of stress among civil servants were because of "the way public services are being treated".

"Members are working under great stress and strain, having their pay and pensions attacked," he said.

"It's not a bit of wonder that our public services are not happy places to work."

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