Re­port shows school staff tak­ing more sick days

Windsor Star - - FRONT PAGE - The Cana­dian Press

TORONTO On­tario teach­ers and other school board em­ploy­ees have been tak­ing more sick days since they stopped be­ing able to bank that time, the prov­ince’s au­di­tor re­ported Wed­nes­day.

In her an­nual re­port, Bon­nie Lysyk said a study of more than 50 school boards found that in the last five years, sick days in­creased by about 30 per cent — from nine days in the 2011-2012 school year to 11.6 in 2015-2016.

The begin­ning of that fiveyear pe­riod is when the prov­ince stopped let­ting teach­ers bank sick days. Be­fore that, teach­ers were al­lowed 20 paid sick days a year and could carry them for­ward, get­ting paid out upon re­tire­ment for up to 200 un­used days.

Now, all school board em­ploy­ees get 11 fully paid days, plus 120 days paid at 90 per cent, Lysyk said. Sev­eral trustee as­so­ci­a­tions told the au­di­tor that 90 per cent pay is not a penalty.

“Some trustee as­so­ci­a­tions told us that since ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor work­ers lost the abil­ity to bank sick days, they were more likely to use the sick leave that they would no longer be able to bank,” the au­di­tor’s re­port said.

The au­di­tor team vis­ited four school boards as part of its au­dit and all of them said the changes in the sick leave plan con­trib­uted to the in­creases.

“I think when you hear the term sick leave and sick days you as­sume that peo­ple are sick,” Lysyk said. “We’re com­ment­ing that school boards per­haps need to put in place some sick leave poli­cies.”

Cus­to­di­ans and main­te­nance em­ploy­ees had the high­est av­er­age sick days in the 2015-2016 school year, at more than 16 days. Ed­u­ca­tional as­sis­tants and early child­hood ed­u­ca­tors had the largest in­creases, at 41 per cent and 37 per cent. That amounted to 16 days and about 13.5 days, re­spec­tively.

El­e­men­tary teach­ers took an av­er­age of more than 11 days and sec­ondary school teach­ers took an av­er­age of al­most 10 days, the study found.

Some boards said that cus­to­dial and main­te­nance work­ers take more sick days be­cause of the phys­i­cal na­ture of their jobs and ed­u­ca­tion as­sis­tants are more sus­cep­ti­ble to get­ting sick be­cause of close con­tact with stu­dents, the au­di­tor’s re­port said.

Har­vey Bischof, pres­i­dent of the On­tario Sec­ondary School Teach­ers’ Fed­er­a­tion, said he sees no rea­son to draw a con­nec­tion be­tween the end of banked sick days and the five-year in­crease.

“I know that our mem­bers are re­port­ing among other things, in­creased in­ci­dents of vi­o­lence in the work­place to which they are sub­ject, re­sult­ing in phys­i­cal in­jury, re­sult­ing in men­tal stress,” he said.

The union ap­proached one school board em­ployer or­ga­ni­za­tion to sug­gest pi­lot projects that would in­ter­vene early when em­ploy­ees are off sick to pro­vide them with sup­ports so they can re­turn to work, Bischof said.

Ed­u­ca­tion Min­is­ter Mitzie Hunter said the re­spon­si­bil­ity for at­ten­dance man­age­ment rests with school boards.

Lysyk rec­om­mends that school boards de­velop and im­ple­ment at­ten­dance sup­port pro­grams, in­clud­ing ab­sence re­port­ing, track­ing and data anal­y­sis.

She said in her re­port that the di­rect costs of ab­sen­teeism in­clude pay­ing for re­place­ment work­ers, such as sub­sti­tute teach­ers, re­sult­ing in less money be­ing avail­able for stu­dent ser­vices.

The study found that over­all sick leave paid as a per­cent­age of pay­roll rose from an av­er­age of 4.22 per cent in 2011-12 to 5.28 per cent in 2015-16, an in­crease of 25 per cent.

We’re com­ment­ing that school boards per­haps need to put in place some sick leave poli­cies.

FRANK GUNN/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

On­tario au­di­tor general Bon­nie Lysyk says since the prov­ince stopped teach­ers and other school staff from bank­ing un­used sick days, school boards have seen an in­crease in sick call-ins .

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