The pandemic has cost the federal public service dearly in lost productivity. According to estimates by the Parliamentary Budget Officer, absences of public servants cost at least half a billion dollars. And that might just be a very conservative assessment.
Federal officials are entitled to so-called code 699 paid leave, that is to say for various reasons, including having had COVID-19, having had to quarantine or having had to take care of a person dependent. There is no obligation for an employee to use up sick leave, family leave, personal leave or vacation before taking a code 699 leave.
The Parliamentary Budget Officer (PBO) wanted to know, at the request of a Conservative MP, how many officials took advantage of it from March 15 to May 31. Answer: over 76,000. This represents, according to the PBO, an estimated cost of $ 439 million, or the equivalent of 1% of all staff costs incurred in 2018-2019.
In fact, the figure is even higher, as the PBO only obtained data from 62 of the 88 organizations in the federal public service. By making an extrapolation, the PBO concludes that the cost has instead been $ 623 million. The month of June has yet to be counted, but could have cost an additional $ 80 million to $ 140 million.
By far the organization whose public servants have taken advantage of this provision the most is the Canada Revenue Agency (CRA): 40,057 public servants have requested such leave, for an average expenditure per worker of $ 7,767. The CRA retorts that it is one of the largest organizations in the federal government and especially that it requires its employees to fill out their time sheets meticulously. This made it possible to better document the use of code 699 holidays.
“This confirms the PBO’s view that some organizations have probably under-reported the taking of code 699 holidays,” read the report released on Friday. “The fact that the CRA was tasked with implementing new benefits for millions of individuals and businesses (the Canada Emergency Benefit and the Wage Subsidy) on a very short notice, while continuing to process tax returns and other payments, seems to indicate that a fairly large proportion of employees were in fact at work. In contrast, anecdotal evidence indicates that several activities in other organizations (even those with legislated deadlines, such as access to information requests) have been put on hold, suggesting that ‘a large part of the employees were not working, despite the figures reported by these organizations. As a result, the holidays declared by federal organizations are probably underestimated in relation to the number of work hours lost during this period. ”
The PBO notes that another factor is not taken into account in the cost of these leaves, namely the cost of overtime worked and possible hires made to compensate for the code 699 leaves.
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