Prison Service denies failing to tackle absence

The Prison Service’s director of personnel has denied that it is not effectively tackling sickness absence, despite a warning from an influential government watchdog that it needed to “take a tighter grip on the problem”.

Gareth Hadley said a report by the all-party Public Accounts Committee (PAC), released last week, focused too much on old sickness absence figures.

“[The report] concentrated on 2002-2003 levels, which showed an average of 14.7 days absence per person. In 2003-2004, there was a fall to 13.3 days per person, and in the year to date we are running at 12.7 days,” he said.

Latest CBI figures show that the average sickness rate is 6.9 days for the private sector and 8.9 days for the public sector.

The PAC said the service has had a higher sickness absence rate than other parts of government for a number of years and should consider not paying staff for the first three days of illness, in line with some private sector organisations.

But Hadley rejected this idea: “The problem is not really with short-term sickness, but long-term absence. We don’t want to put in place mechanisms that force people to come to work when they are genuinely ill.”

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