A confidential government report obtained by CBC News reveals federal workers have been booking off sick in record numbers, costing Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion a year in lost wages alone.
The internal Treasury Board report indicates federal public servants are staying home an average of 18 working days a year, or almost a full month off the job.
That is about 2½ times the average rate of absenteeism in Canadian private industry, and almost twice the level of sick leave and disability claims in the rest of the public sector.
This apparent epidemic of bureaucratic no-shows means that on an average weekday, more federal public servants are off sick than there are employees at Ford Canada and General Motors combined.
Statistics over the past decade show absenteeism is a growing problem, and experts say the Conservative government's current job cuts will only make matters much worse.
Most workers in the federal public service get up to 15 days of fully paid sick leave per year, and on average, they are calling in sick for 12 of them.
In most areas of the government, employees can bank unused sick leave for future needs.
According to one informed estimate, public servants are currently sitting on about $5.2-billion worth of accumulated sick leave, a potential tidal wave of future absenteeism.
Long-term disability adds to costs
Federal employees whose illnesses outlast their regular sick leave benefits may also be entitled to long-term disability coverage.
The confidential report shows the use of long-term disability benefits is also increasing, accounting for the equivalent of another six days a year of lost work per government employee.
The combination of regular sick leave and long-term disability adds up to an average absenteeism of 18 days a year per employee.
The report estimates that on any given day, there are about 6,000 federal workers collecting disability benefits equal to 70 per cent of their regular income. (The report does not include employees of Crown corporations.)
Almost half of them are on leave for stress, depression or other mental health issues.
Gregory Thomas, head of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation, calls the situation "outrageous."
"We know the population isn't sick 18 days a year; it doesn't make sense.
"The government's got to start treating this money like it's their own money, and they've got to insist that if people are healthy, they come to work. And if people are sick, you've got to make sure they are sick."
Absenteeism expected to get worse
The 86-page report completed a year ago is part of a government-wide review called the Disability Management Initiative, an attempt by the Harper administration to come to grips with soaring absenteeism in the public service.
The report says so much absenteeism already costs Canadian taxpayers more than $1 billion a year.
Experts say the situation is likely to get worse.
The Harper government has announced it is cutting about 19,500 jobs across the federal public service over the next three years — coincidentally, almost exactly the number of federal workers off sick on any given day.
The report warns cuts inherently "place more strain and additional burdens on employees who are present in the workplace, causing yet more disability."
That view is shared by workplace health experts and by union officials.
Linda Duxbury, a professor at Carleton University's Sprott School of Business and one of the country's leading specialists in workplace health and absenteeism, said the record levels of sick leave shouldn't come as a surprise.
"We know in fact downsizing, restructuring, re-engineering, losing jobs — it is incredibly hard on people; it is hard on their psyche, hard on their mental health.
Gary Corbett, head of the Professional Institute of the Public Service, the union representing government scientists, engineers and other professionals, blames the Harper government's approach to downsizing the public service for creating uncertainty among employees.
"It puts a lot of stress on people."
The government's Disability Management Initiative includes representatives from the public service unions, and was supposed to lay the groundwork for a complete overhaul of federal sick leave and disability programs across the bureaucracy.
But no one seems to know what has happened to the whole initiative.
Treasury Board officials refused to provide any information on the initiative — or anything else to do with government absenteeism.
Senior officials at the two largest public service unions say no one in their ranks has even seen the report.
Indeed, a year after the report was completed, there is no evidence it has prompted the government to make any changes at all.
7. Huge Regional Disparities
Wood Mountain (includes oil rich Fort McMurray, pictured here) saw its employment level shoot up by 95% over the 2000 to 2011 period, while forestry based Miramichi suffered the biggest decline of 63% in job numbers.<br> <br> Two out of 33 Census Metropolitan Areas (Windsor and Thunder Bay) had fewer jobs in 2011 than in 2000 while 13 of 45 smaller cities were in this situation. In 2011, only 5.5% of the labour force in Wood Mountain were unemployed while 16.4% were unemployed in Miramichi.<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
6. Jobs Up, Wages Down
The unemployment rate jumped from a near record low of 6.1% in October 2008 to a high of 8.7% high in August 2009 and has declined slowly since then to 7.2% in March 2012. In spite of the recovery, unemployment duration increased again in 2011.<br> <br> There was a another slight decrease in the number of discouraged job searchers in 2011, who just quit looking because they believed that nothing suitable was available, but their numbers were still 50% above pre-recession levels. Actual hours worked at all jobs advanced to 36.4 hours in 2011 up 24 minutes from the all-time low of 36 hours in 2009.<br> <br> Real (after removing inflation) average weekly wages fell by 0.5% in 2011 following an increase of only 0.2% in 2010. This helps explain why the number of workers who have more than one job climbed for a third straight year to a record 5.4% in 2011. Women (6.4%) are now more likely to have a second job than are men (4.5%) while both were the same (4.6%) in 1989.<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
5. Bad News For Working Parents
In 2011, the employment rate for lone-parent mothers (55%), lone-parent fathers (79%) and mothers with an employed husband present (70%) all with children under the age of six continued to be below their prerecession peaks. The only exception in 2011 was for women with a non-employed husband for whom the employment rate (53%) was above the pre-recession rate.<br> <br> The "monetary" value of childcare remains undervalued. In 2011, childcare and home support workers working full-time (30 hours or more per week) earned an average of $598 per week. This was the third lowest behind full-time chefs and cooks ($545) and retail sales persons ($589). On a more detailed level, babysitters, nannies and parent helpers were the lowest paid occupation from among over 700 occupations in the 2006 Census.<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
4. Manufacturing Still Struggling
After eight years of decline, the manufacturing sector created only 15,900 jobs in 2011. Employment in 2011 was about where it was in 1993 and down by 532,200 jobs since the peak in 2004.<br> <br> Based on employment growth over the 2000 to 2011 period, the most rapidly expanding industries in Canada were mining and oil and gas extraction (+70.3%) and construction (+56.4%). Other leading growth industries (all service related) included professional, scientific, technical services (+39.9%), health care and social assistance (+37.9%) and real estate and leasing (+30.1%). <br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
3. Labour Shortages
For 2011 as a whole, eight (35%) out of the 23 major occupations were in a shortage situation, compared to six occupations in the previous year but still much less than the 10 occupations before the recession began. When examined from an industry basis, there were shortages in five (25%) of the 20 sectors in 2011, up from four during the previous year. <br> <br> In 2011, the unemployment rate among professional occupations in health, nurse supervisors and registered nurses stood at only 0.8%. Unemployment was only 1.9% in technical, assisting and related occupations in health and in professional occupations in business and finance. Demographics point to more shortages in the medium-term.<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
2. Alberta - The Youth Job-Bringer
Based on a ranking of 10 youth related indicators, Alberta was the best place for youth in 2011 followed by Saskatchewan in 2nd spot and Quebec in 3rd spot. Next in line were Manitoba (4th), Prince Edward Island (5th), British Columbia (6th), Ontario (7th), New Brunswick (8th), Newfoundland (9th) and Nova Scotia (10th).<br> <br> At the national level, recession is still the reality for youth. Youth employment plummeted by 195,400 jobs in 2009 and 2010 combined but only 19,300 jobs came back in 2011. In 2011, employment rates for all youth slipped further to 55.4% (lowest since 2000), was flat for returning students working in the summer (53.8%) but down a lot for full-time students who were working during the school year (36.6%). <br> <br> In 2011, the unemployment rate improved slightly for all youth (14.2%) but worsened for returning students working in the summer (17.4%).<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>
1. A Greying Workforce
More and more seniors are working longer. The percentage of those aged 60-64 who are employed rose from 34% in 1989 to 47% in 2011 ... a new record. The percentage of those aged 65-69 who are still working jumped from 11% in 1989 to 23% in 2011 ... another new record. The percentage of the 70 and over group who are still working increased to 6% in 2011 ... one more record high. <br> <br> Over the 1989 to 2011 period, the labour force aged 45-54 more than doubled (+108%), those aged 55-64 also more than doubled (+133%) while those aged 65 and older grew even faster (+180%). <br> <br> The recession delayed retirement for many, as record numbers of persons 60 and older remained in the paid workforce. The median retirement age among men (63.2 years) rose for a third consecutive year in 2011 and was the highest since 2003. The median age of retirement among women increased to 61.4 years in 2011 and is the second highest since 1994.<br> <br> -- <a href="http://peoplepatternsconsulting.com/pub_can_job12.html" target="_hplink">People Patterns Consulting</a>