Mrs Armitage (Launceston) - Mr President, I thank the member for Windermere for bringing this forward. I agree there is a lot of work to be done in this area. It is a very serious matter.
I thank the former Auditor-General Mike Blake for this audit and for his professionalism and dedication to the role throughout his tenure. I also welcome the new Auditor-General Rod Whitehead and wish him well with the task ahead.
This particular audit looked at what absenteeism costs and the processes used to deal with it. The estimated direct cost of personal leave, including sick and carer's leave, to the state as mentioned by the member for Windermere was $68 million per annum. While the Auditor-General did not regard this as unusually high, improvements in how personal leave is managed would benefit the state's finances and improve the working culture of the agencies examined in this report.
The State Service had nearly 24 000 employees as at 30 June 2014. I note workers compensation is not part of this report and will be audited separately at a later stage. Members may remember we asked questions particular to public service areas at Government Business Enterprise time regarding workers compensation. We asked for the reasons people were going on workers compensation, whether they were stress related and other areas.
Personal leave costs for the agencies included in the audit were $36 million of direct costs per annum. Those agencies were the Tasmanian Health Organisation-South, the Department of Justice, the Department of Police and Emergency Management, TasTAFE and the Department of Education.
Eight criteria were considered. These are reporting and monitoring; policy; data capture; IT systems; preventative measures; long-term absence management; cost of absences; performance of and reasons for absence costs.
The cost of absenteeism was found to have increased over and above CPI in the five years to 2014. Significantly, it would appear the $68 million figure is a conservative one as the costs of managing absences and backfilling are not included. We all know how much it costs to replace someone. This is a figure which would be interesting to have. If you have to put someone extra on, particularly from one of the organisations that provide it, there is a higher cost than someone on permanent staff.
The Auditor-General says the real costs are much higher. Many recommendations have been made including developing a government KPI to reduce all incidences and costs of personal leave; agencies to report at least monthly on absences: agencies to report absences to the executive and to send that information to line managers and HR to include attendance and leave in the performance review process; and agencies to develop absence management policy and guidelines. It is pleasing to see the Auditor-General's comment that he was encouraged by heads of agencies' willingness to address his high number of recommendations to a significant extent.
The Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet, Greg Johannes, highlights in his submission that the reasons for which personal leave can be taken have necessarily expanded in recent years. They now cover areas such as domestic violence and caring responsibilities. This may impact on the average number of leave days being taken. Also DPAC encourages staff who are sick not to come into work, to minimise the spread of illnesses such as influenza. Greg Johannes says the cost of absenteeism also needs to be balanced against the cost of unwell employees in the workplace and that is a very important message to get across that it is all very well for people to feel they need to go to work, but if they are going to work and making other people ill, it is a false premise.
This is a most comprehensive audit and I, like the member for Windermere, hope that t
he Government will take it seriously. I look forward to further opportunities for us to watch progress of the agencies and how they deal with absenteeism. I thank the former Auditor-General Mike Blake and the Auditor-General's office for the work done for this investigation.