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Opinion  

Who's sickest of them all?

Government employees may want to start wearing a medical mask to the office.

That’s because there might be something contagious in the office air. Or possibly the office water. The exact cause isn’t clear, but bureaucrats from across the land appear to falling ill at a much greater rate than the rest of us.

A recent analysis of Statistics Canada data by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation shows that the number of sick days taken by bureaucrats is considerably higher than their counterparts outside of government.

For example, in 2018, federal government employees took an average of 12.2 sick days per year, compared to the national private sector average of just 6.9 days, a difference of 77 per cent.

It’s even worse in Alberta, where provincial government employees took an average of 14.4 sick days, compared to 5.7 in the private sector, a whopping 153 per cent difference.

Across the board, in province after province, there’s a consistent pattern: if you’re in government, you’re taking more sick days. Sniffle, sniffle.

It’s certainly a bit of a puzzle. If anything, given how well they are taken care of in terms of compensation and job security, you might expect government employees to be well-placed to be healthier, not sicker, than the rest of us.

After all, they tend to have higher salaries, earning around 10 per cent more than those working in the private sector, and far more generous pensions – mostly paid for by beleaguered taxpayers toiling away outside government.

And speaking of taxpayers, this government sick-day phenomenon – we could also invent a clinical term, bureaucratitis – is costing us all dearly.

The federal government alone has over 260,000 people on its payroll. Multiply that by the gap between government and private sector sick days – 5.3 – and it works out to a staggering 1.37 million lost days of work in just one year.

It’s the equivalent of having over 5,200 federal bureaucrats calling in sick on any given weekday.

Worst of all, such maladies appear to be part of an inexplicable nationwide trend hitting unsuspecting government employees over the years, appearing without apparent rhyme or reason.  

For example, in 2013, illness disproportionately struck Saskatchewan provincial government employees on the day after the Roughriders Grey Cup parade, while in 2014 a swathe of their Nova Scotia counterparts tragically fell sick on the day after the Canadian men’s hockey team beat Latvia 2-1 at the Winter Olympics.   

In 2016, oddly, illness seemed to strike Quebec provincial bureaucrats heavily on Mondays and Fridays, while leaving them relatively unscathed in the middle of the work week.

At least one thing is clear: we need to get to the bottom of this mysterious trend causing thousands of extra taxpayer-funded absences every day.

We can’t stand idly by while government employees suffer quietly through these afflictions, especially with them coming right after major sporting events and on days right before or after weekends. 

If nothing else, we owe it to them to help figure out what is preventing them from doing the jobs taxpayers are paying them to do.

– Aaron Wudrick is federal director of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation



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