Children and family development employees took $7.3 million of sick leave in fiscal 2007/08 - costing the government more money than any other provincial ministry. This, according to documents exclusively obtained by Public Eye via a freedom of information request.
That money equals 47,313 sick days or an average of 12.39 days per employee - significantly more than the 8.55 day average across government. In fact, only the smaller ministry of employment and income assistance was sicker, averaging 12.89 days per employee at a cost of $3.2 million.
Asked for comment, children and family development communications manager Matt Gordon explained, "MCFD has the most employees in government - at 4,800 employees, we are the largest provincial ministry. We also have the largest proportion of front-line workers providing direct services to clients. We recognize there are challenges in terms of sick days. But it's important to acknowledge that our staff, particularly those who work in the field and on the front-lines, face significant pressures due to the nature of the work."
Nevertheless, the average number of sick days at children and family development has - for the most part - increased since the Liberals took office, starting at 10.97 days per employee in 2001/02 and reaching its highest level in the past fiscal year. By comparison, that average has decreased across government over the same period, starting at 9.45 days. So what action is the ministry taking to ensure its employees are healthier?
Well, Mr. Gordon says children and family development is presently "working on strategies to help reduce sick days and help employees." Those strategies include having occupational health nurses visit the homes those who have taken more than two weeks of leave to "help them find ways to get back to work sooner." And the ministry has hired "someone to focus on this specific issue so we can find more strategies to help."
But British Columbia Government and Service Employees' Union research, campaigns and communications director Mary Rowles said the Campbell administration should be doing more. "Everything the ministry spokesperson mentioned was all about attendance management - sending nurses to badger people who are at home. Where are the actions that will actually reduce caseloads, for example, with child protection workers, reduce stress and actually address the root causes of this?"
The following is a complete listing of the average sick days per employee at children and family development and across government by fiscal year.
Average sick days per person at children and family development
Fiscal 2007/08 - 12.39
Fiscal 2006/07 - 11.46
Fiscal 2005/06 - 11.71
Fiscal 2004/05 - 11.71
Fiscal 2003/04 - 11.52
Fiscal 2002/03 - 11.77
Fiscal 2001/02 - 10.97
Average sick days per person across government
Fiscal 2007/08 - 8.55
Fiscal 2006/07 - 8.37
Fiscal 2005/06 - 8.69
Fiscal 2004/05 - 8.31
Fiscal 2003/04 - 8.67
Fiscal 2002/03 - 8.88
Fiscal 2001/02 - 9.45