Defence force has sickest year ever

The Irish Defence Forces lost more than 135,000 days to sick leave last year. Members of the army, naval service and air corps, which have a combined strength of 10,500, took an average 13 sick days each in 2008.

The country’s 8,500 soldiers took the largest amount of time off — 113,956 days — citing ill-health, stress and injury. This was 13.4 days each.

The 1,144 naval service personnel took 10,945 sick days, an average of 9.5 each. The state’s 850 air corps staff took 10,899 sick days, an average of 12.8. The statistics were released under the Freedom of Information Act.

The defence forces said it could not calculate the financial cost of sick leave. Almost all public-sector employers have higher absenteeism rates than the private sector, where the average firm loses 3.5% of its working year.

The defence forces said most sick leave taken was a result of injuries incurred during training and field-combat exercises. “All members of the Irish Defence Forces participate in field exercises, which can cause injuries due to their nature,” it said. “All members are required to train physically on a continual basis.”

Gerry Rooney, the general secretary of PDFORRA, the defence forces’ union, said the high rate of sick leave was because members of the forces were on duty round the clock. “The work that gardai engage in cannot be compared to the training undertaken by soldiers, who engage in cross-country military exercises,” said Rooney.

Jimmy Deenihan, the Fine Gael spokesman on defence matters, said the sick leave should be examined by Willie O’Dea, the defence minister. “It raises important issues about the welfare of our soldiers and Defence Forces staff,” he said.

(Source: John Mooney )

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