Union action preserves sick leave for critically ill

Other sick leave arrangements cut

Read IMPACT’s summary HERE.

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

Read the Labour Court recommendation HERE.

Civil and 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, under new sick leave arrangements to be introduced by the Government.

IMPACT and other unions successfully argued in the Labour Court 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.

In the case of non-critical illnesses, however, the new arrangements will halve certified sick leave limits to three months on full pay, followed by three months on half pay in any four-year period. New restrictions on the so-called ‘pension rate,’ a small pension-based income for those whose paid sick leave is exhausted, also means that no public servant will now receive any kind sick leave payment for more than two years.

The changes to certified sick leave arrangements will be introduced by legislation and are expected to take effect from 1st January 2014.

Self-certified leave

The Labour Court also said self-certified (also known as uncertified) paid sick leave should be limited to seven days in any 24-month period, rather than the current 12 months. This is to be introduced “as soon as possible.”

Management had originally proposed to reduce self-certified leave to three days a year, before taking a modified position of six days over 24 months to the Labour Court. The Court decided on seven days over 24 months.

The new package will replace 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.

IMPACT did not accept the need to change the sick leave arrangements and argued that management already had the tools to address any mismanagement or abuse of the system. But with new legislation inevitable following the Government’s announcement, the union prioritised protection for staff with critical illnesses – as well as maintaining a facility for self-certified short-term sick leave – in direct talks and in the Labour Court.

Significant changes

Although studies show that most civil servants currently take less than two day’s self-certified sick leave a year, IMPACT general secretary Shay Cody warned members to be aware that significant changes would be introduced very quickly. He said the union had posted a guide to the changes on its website today.

“The biggest fear among IMPACT members 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.

The Government’s motive for the changes is to save money and Shay said management had failed to put forward any evidence of widespread abuse of current sick leave arrangements. “The assertion that sick leave arrangements are treated by staff as additional holiday entitlement is well wide of the mark and management put forward no evidence to support it. The evidence that does exist, 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.

New laws

The issue was referred to the Labour Court after direct talks failed to reach agreement. The Court makes binding recommendations on issues covered by the Croke Park agreement and the Government is now expected to legislate to implement the Court’s recommendation. The new law will amend existing contractual provisions.

Read IMPACT’s summary HERE.

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

Read the Labour Court recommendation HERE.