Sick leave and a lesson in humility for Tony Clement

Never have false statements by a Harper Cabinet Minister been exposed as quickly and publicly as those made by the President of theTreasury Board Tony Clement this summer in reference to sick leave in the federal public service.

Minister Clement asserted that federal public servants take too much sick leave. Indeed, he claimed that they take three times more sick leave than workers in the private sector. All of this leave, he trumpeted across every available media platform, represents a deficit of more than $5 billion in the federal government’s books.

 In making these statements, Tony Clement was laying the groundwork for the upcoming round of collective bargaining between the government and the main unions representing federal employees. The Minister’s intention was to eliminate the current sick leave system and replace it with a new one that would provide workers with 5 days of sick leave instead of 15 and impose a 7-day period without wages for employees who are sick for more than 5 five days in a year. 

 Shortly after Minister Clement fired this first salvo in the media, his questionable math was corrected by one of the federal government’s own agencies. Statistics Canada published a report* indicating that public sector workers take more or less the same number of days of sick leave as do workers in the private sector. In fact, the difference between the public and private sectors, the report noted, was only a few hours per year. Obviously, this was not something to get worked up about!

 A few days later, the Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer* released a report indicating that sick leave taken by federal public servants ultimately does not place much of a burden on the federal treasury. The report found that departments and agencies, as a matter of policy, generally do not replace workers who are on sick leave for short periods of time; consequently, these absences do not add to government expenditures.

 Minister Clement did not back down, however, even though he got covered with egg when his trial balloon rather publicly burst in his face. Rather, he developed a list of demands for the current round of collective bargaining that included eliminating the existing sick leave system and replacing it with one that, to all intents and purposes, would force employees to go to work even when they are sick.

It is clear that Tony Clement’s new sick leave plan is a solution to a non-existent problem. The Minister’s actions seem guided solely by a desire to make life difficult for public servants. The principal bargaining agents representing federal employees - with CAPE taking the lead - will not roll over and give up on this issue. They are determined to defeat this proposal. Moreover, numerous documents, articles and press releases have already been published debunking Tony Clement’s statements and exposing the mass of disinformation which the government has been spreading in preparation for the current round of bargaining.



-      Understanding public-private sector differences in work absences. Statistics Canada (

-      Fiscal Analysis of Sick Leave in the Federal Public Service. Office of the Parliamentary Budget Officer (