Sick days are a controversial topic within companies, as I discussed in a previous article. With the Canada Post debate still raging, the issue of whether or not employees have it too good when it comes to time-off is being dusted off and analyzed again.
Postal employees get up to 15 sick days a year at full pay, and those that go unused can be banked for next year. Journalist Greg Weston points out in a column for the CBC that “As a result, according to the union, 26 per cent of employees have over 30 weeks of unused sick leave; some have over 80 weeks.” Critics argue the cost to the government and ultimately Canadian taxpayers is too big. Kevin Dee, CEO of Ottawa-based staffing company Eagle Professional Resources who I spoke with for my previous article has the classic small business owner mentality regarding government benefits, which he says are “fully exploited.” “The problem is that you and I are paying to give those benefits to government employees using our tax dollars,” says Dee, who offers staff five personal days . “Yet we can’t afford to give those same benefits to ourselves.”
Critics are supportive of the alternative plan Canada Post is trying to pass called the Short-Term Disability Program (STD plan), which seeks to replace the 15 sick days with 7 personal days, and in the event of a more long-term illness, up to 30 weeks off with 70% pay. On their website, Canada Post writes “Over half of you don’t have enough sick days banked to get you to long-term disability, and you could be left without your salary,” but the Canadian Union of Postal Workers (CUPW) argues it’s a bad deal. The CUPW website says “Currently full-time workers’ sick leave days accumulate at 1.25 per month, and you’re paid 100% of wages on sick leave as long as you have days in the bank. Once they’re used up, you may borrow up to 20 days, and then apply for EI benefits until you are eligible for Long Term Disability.”
CUPW cautions the STD plan has catches: there would be a seven-day wait for Manulife to approve an STD claim, a period during which employees would have to use personal days, and you cannot access any special leave until all personal days are used up. This means if after disability leave a short-term illness occurs, you’ll have no coverage. In “non-urgent” situations, personal leave would be subject to approval based on “operational requirements”. In 2007, data from the Canadian Health and Mental Association (CHMA) showed 32% of disability insurance claims at Canada Post were due to depression and anxiety, which could fall under the category of “non-urgent.”
Over 40,000 Canada Post employees are between the ages of 40-59, and the age bracket between 50-59 is the single largest group of workers according to the Canada Post Pension Plan 2010 annual report. “Many of these employees have been doing physical duties throughout their careers,” writes Charles Sullivan, who keeps a blog called Canada’s Postal Transformation Project. “It is inevitable that injuries are going to occur and progressively continue to be aggravated or get worse over time.” The average Postal Worker uses 14 sick days a year, and if implemented, CUPW points out the seven personal days are inadequate for current needs.
On January 31 the union’s collective agreement expires and renegotiation will take place. Until then, Canada Post’s current sick-leave policy remains on life-support.