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Public sector must be empowered to address levels of sickness absence, says Blair

Public sector leaders must be empowered to address levels of sickness absence in the Northern Ireland public sector, Alliance MLA John Blair has said, following a report on attendance in central and local government released today.

The report from the Audit Office found the Northern Ireland Civil Service lost almost 13 days per employee to sickness in 2019-20, an increase of more than 10 per cent over the past five years. Additionally, local Councils lost an average of 14 days per employee in 2018-19, while some lost as many as 17 days per year. The Audit Office warned sickness absence is placing a strain on services here.

“The figures published today are a real cause for concern,” said South Antrim MLA Mr Blair.

“Long-term absences account for the majority of working days lost in both the Civil Service and local government, and much of that is due to mental health issues such as anxiety, stress and depression. The changes to working life imposed by COVID-19 will have exacerbated these issues for many, and there needs to be a strategy right across the public sector to address how mental health is being cared for in the workplace.

“Today’s report calls for the creation of a strong attendance culture, prevention and early intervention to reduce long-term absence, and a long-term sickness absence strategy to address the issues highlighted. Alliance fully supports these proposals, but they will need strong leadership within the public sector to make them a reality. It is absolutely crucial the First and Deputy First Minister appoint a new Head of the Civil Service, so these long-standing issues can start to be addressed.”