Labour Court retains sick leave for critically ill public servants, but other measures cut

The Labour Court has today recommended that public servants who suffer long-term critical illness or serious physical injury will still be able to take six months paid sick leave, followed by six months on half pay, over a four-year period, under new sick leave arrangements to be introduced by the Government. IMPACT and other unions successfully argued against management proposals to cut this to six months full pay followed by three months half pay. Unions also successfully resisted management plans to limit the arrangement to a single critical illness or serious injury in a public servant’s career.

But the new arrangements will halve paid sick leave limits for non-critical illnesses to three months on full pay, followed by three months on half pay in any four-year period. The Labour Court said unions had “recognised the inevitability” of this change, which was “of major significance from the prospective of the State as an employer.”

Self-certified sick leave will also be limited to a maximum of seven days in any 24-month period, rather than the current 12 months. And new time limits on the so-called ‘pension rate’ – a small pension-based income for those whose paid sick leave is exhausted – mean that no public servant will now receive any kind sick leave payment for more than two years.

Changes to self-certified sick leave are to be introduced “as soon as possible,” while changes to certified leave will be introduced by legislation and are expected to take effect on 1st January 2014. The new package will replace separate arrangements in different parts of the civil and public service with a single scheme, which management says must also apply in ‘section 38’ agencies, including voluntary hospitals. There is to be further consultation about the implementation of the measures in education because of fixed holiday periods in the sector.

IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody, who led the union side in talks as Chair of ICTU’s Public Services Committee, said unions had prioritised protection for staff with critical illnesses because new arrangements were inevitable following the Government’s 2011 announcement that it would legislate to change sick leave limits.

“The biggest fear among public servants was that they could be left without an income if they fell critically ill, regardless of their previous sick leave record. That’s why we prioritised this issue and we have successfully defended the arrangements currently in place. We were also determined to retain a reasonable facility for self-certified sick leave and we have significantly modified management plans in this area. Nevertheless, these are significant changes which public servants need to make themselves aware of,” he said.

Mr Cody said unions had not accepted the need to change the sick leave arrangements and had argued that management already had the tools to address any mismanagement or abuse of the system. “Evidence from the Comptroller and Auditor General shows that most public servants take very little of the uncertified sick leave allowed, and most sick leave incidence has been certified as necessary by a doctor,” he said.

Read IMPACT’s summary HERE.

Read IMPACT’s ‘at a glance’ table, setting out the changes, HERE.

Read the Labour Court recommendation HERE.