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Hamilton politicians get tough on employee absenteeism

 By Kevin Werner, News Staff

 Angry city councillors say Hamilton needs to crack down on employees’ high absenteeism rate following this year’s figures that reveal the problem continues to cost taxpayers millions of dollars a year with staff seemingly unable to slow it down.

“If I saw these figures, I would want my boss to fire me,” said Stoney Creek councillor Brenda Johnson.

Sick days for city employees have bumped up from 2.52 days to 2.77 days over the last year, while Workplace Safety and Insurance Board applications have also jumped from 2012 to 2013 from 8.08 days to 9.60 days, for a total number of lost days of 2,350 this year, according to a staff report as of this fall. It has cost taxpayers from $3.7 million to $4.1 million in the last quarter of the year.

In total, absenteeism will cost the city about $11.5 million this year, nearly two million dollars more than a few years ago. That doesn’t include the overtime costs that would make that figure even higher, said Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark.

Johnson, who has raised the issue every year since she was elected in 2010, remained shocked that corporate management staff hasn’t be able to get a handle on the situation.

“I’m just absolutely beyond frustrated,” said Johnson.

“What are we doing? I want to see results.”

Ward 5 councillor Chad Collins was blunter. He said the city hasn’t been following its own plan to even address the issue.

“They have done a piss poor job as a (city) priority,” said Collins.

He said the city could easily save millions of tax dollars if senior management just started to crack down on absenteeism. By curtailing the absenteeism rate, the city could save about three per cent, preventing a tax increase this year, said Johnson.

Collins suggested hauling managers before councillors to endure some “uncomfortable” questions about their employee absenteeism.

“We need to live by our own rules,” he said.

 Clarksaid the simple fact is city staff has to establish tougher employee guidelines. Now, employees can take five days off with pay before a doctor’s note is required. Clark said it has lead to people “going to football games instead of work.

“I won’t be satisfied (until) we have in place a deterrent,” he said. “They get paid to sit at home.”

Clark pointed to City Manager Chris Murray to introduce tougher employee guidelines.

“I’m looking to you for your leadership,” said Clark. “It can’t go on the way it is. This is one issue we are not backing down.”

Helen Tomasik, executive director of human resources, said the city does have a management action plan to get the absenteeism rate down by one day by December 2014.

“We need to look at it from a holistic perspective,” said Tomasik. “We do have measures in place.”

City staff said they may have to incorporate a stricter sick day policy when bargaining begins with its unions.

“We (may) have to place the burden on the employee,” saidMurray. “We need to some dramatic steps in the next round of bargaining.”

But Clarkpointed out the city has followed a “holistic” plan, yet the absenteeism continues to increase.

Members of the audit and finance committee approved a recommendation, introduced by Johnson, to establish a more aggressive plan to slow down absenteeism. The report needs to be presented to politicians by March 2014. In addition, the next time employee absenteeism is discussed at the committee, managers need to be present at the meeting.



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