03/30/2016 11:00 EDT | Updated 03/31/2017 01:12 EDT

Sandals says teachers no sicker than before they lost right to bank sick days

TORONTO — Education Minister Liz Sandals says it looks like Ontario teachers are taking more sick days because they lost the right to bank them and take a cash payout on retirement.

The government says it saved an immediate $1 billion by eliminating teachers' ability to bank sick days in 2012, plus another $625 million in the next three years.

But teachers are calling in sick more often since the benefit changes, costing school boards hundreds of millions of dollars to hire supply teachers.

Sandals says it appears there is a relationship between teachers who feel they lost a retirement benefit and taking more sick days.

She says "there's no reason to believe that they're actually sicker than they were two years ago."

Sandals says recent contract agreements with two Ontario teachers unions included plans to address teacher absenteeism.

"It is something that we obviously need to have the boards working on attendance management," she said.

The Ministry of Education doesn't track teachers' absenteeism, which is left up to individual school boards.

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The Canadian Press