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7. Unscheduled absence

Australian Public Service (APS) employees are granted a range of leave types and unscheduled absence in the APS is an aggregation of the following types of absence:

  • Personal—an aggregation of sick leave, carer's leave and miscellaneous leave
    • * sick—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, due to personal illness or injury or to undergo a planned medical procedure
    • * carer's—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, to provide care or support for a member of the employee's immediate family or household who requires care or support
    • * specific types of miscellaneous/other—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, whether paid or unpaid, that is taken upon the death of a member of the employee's immediate family or household (bereavement), or to spend time with a seriously ill, injured or dying person who is a member of the employee's immediate family or household (compassionate), or in the event of an unexpected emergency
  • Compensation—a workplace absence resulting from personal injury or disease sustained out of, or in the course of, employment (that is, work related) and accepted by Comcare. This leave includes the number of days or part-days an employee is absent from work due to incapacity. It excludes time spent at work on rehabilitation programmes, where rehabilitation takes place at the workplace in paid employment
  • Unauthorised absence—a workplace absence, regardless of duration, that given the circumstances, is not supported or approved by management. For example an absence due to participation in workplace disputes.

Unscheduled absence rates

Overall, unscheduled absence is a broad view of workplace absence, combining personal leave, compensation leave and absence not approved by management. Unscheduled absence also includes absences that have been foreshadowed to managers in advance, such as sick leave to undertake a medical procedure. This definition of unscheduled absence dates from a 2003 report by the Australian National Audit Office.1 This data is provided to the Australian Public Service Commission (the Commission) as part of the annual State of the Service Agency Survey (agency survey). Notable points in the 2013–14 data2 provided by agencies include:

  • the median unscheduled absence rate across all APS agencies in 2013–14 was 12.0 days per employee, an increase of 0.4 days compared with 2012–13 (11.6 days)
  • there is substantial variation in the unscheduled absence rate across APS agencies, from 4.3 to 21.6 days per employee. This is broadly consistent with the data from 2012–13 which ranged from 4.2 days per employee to 19.9 days per employee. In all cases, the highest rates came from smaller agencies and may reflect prolonged absence experienced by relatively few employees (for example, in response to chronic illness)
  • small agencies' unscheduled absence rates ranged from 4.3 days to 19.8 days with a median of 11.0 days per employee (up from 10.3 days last year)
  • medium agencies' unscheduled absence rates ranged from 8.0 days to 21.6 days per employee with a median of 12.3 days per employee (compared to 12.1 days last year)
  • large agencies' unscheduled absence rates ranged from 7.5 days to 16.3 days with a median of 13.4 days per employee (down from 13.7 days last year).

Sick leave rates

Sick leave is a component of personal leave and, generally, accounts for the bulk of unscheduled employee absences over the year. Notable points in the 2013–14 data provided by agencies include:

  • the median sick leave rate across the APS in 2013–14 was 8.8 days per employee (up from 8.6 days in 2012–13) and ranged from a minimum of 3.2 days to 14.9 days
  • Aboriginal Hostels Limited had the highest sick leave rate among all agencies (14.9 days), followed by Clean Energy Regulator (13.2 days) and National Archives of Australia (12.3 days). These agencies are relatively small with fewer than 500 employees.

Tables A7.1 to A7.3 summarise sick leave rates and overall unscheduled absence rates for APS agencies covered by the agency survey in 2013–14. Agencies are grouped according to their size: small (20 to 250 employees); medium (251 to 1,000 employees); large (more than 1,000 employees). Unscheduled absence rates and sick leave rates are compared with rates from 2012–13, where available.

Table A7.1. Large agencies' unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2012–13 and 2013–14 (arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absences in 2013–14)
Agency Sick leave 2012–13 Sick leave 2013–14 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
Department of Human Services 11.8 12.0 16.0 16.3
Department of Agriculture 10.4 10.8 15.0 15.7
Australian Taxation Office 11.8 11.8 15.3 15.1
Department of Health 9.8 10.2 14.1 14.7
Department of Veterans' Affairs 10.4 10.9 14.1 14.5
Department of Social Services 9.9 10.6 13.9 14.5
Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development 11.0 10.8 14.9 14.4
Department of Immigration and Border Protection 9.5 10.1 13.7 14.1
Australian Customs and Border Protection Service 9.2 9.0 13.5 13.5
Department of the Environment 8.8 10.2 11.2 13.5
IP Australia 9.4 8.9 13.8 13.4
Department of Industry 11.5 9.2 13.7 13.0
Australian Bureau of Statistics 9.3 9.4 12.3 13.0
Department of Finance 10.0 9.0 13.8 12.9
Attorney-General's Department 8.7 9.2 11.5 12.0
Department of Defence 9.3 8.7 12.4 11.8
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet 6.9 9.2 8.9 11.6
Australian Securities and Investments Commission 8.0 7.8 10.6 10.9
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade 5.4 6.9 8.2 9.8
Department of the Treasury 7.5 6.6 10.2 8.7
Bureau of Meteorology 7.5 5.4 10.2 7.5
Table A7.2. Medium agencies' unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2012–13 and 2013–14 (arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absences in 2013–14)
Agency Sick leave 2012–13 Sick leave 2013–14 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
Aboriginal Hostels Limited 12.2 14.9 18.9 21.6
Clean Energy Regulator 11.6 13.2 14.3 17.2
Comcare 11.1 11.6 15.7 15.9
ComSuper 13.0 11.8 15.7 15.8
National Archives of Australia 10.3 12.3 13.5 15.7
Office of the Fair Work Ombudsman 9.2 11.0 12.4 15.1
National Library of Australia 10.2 10.8 13.7 14.7
Australian Electoral Commission 10.2 10.4 13.5 14.1
Migration Review Tribunal and Refugee Review Tribunal 10.2 11.7 11.9 14.0
Australian Communications and Media Authority 8.3 9.5 11.0 13.7
Murray-Darling Basin Authority 8.9 9.4 13.1 13.2
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 6.4 10.2 9.2 12.9
Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions 9.3 8.9 14.2 12.7
Family Court and Federal Circuit Court 8.3 8.4 12.1 12.3
Australian Financial Security Authority 9.6 9.7 12.4 12.3
Department of Communications 9.8 8.8 13.2 12.3
Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre 9.7 9.2 12.5 12.0
Australian War Memorial 8.0 8.4 11.3 11.7
Fair Work Commission 6.9 8.3 8.7 11.6
Australian Crime Commission 8.4 8.7 12.2 11.5
Australian Trade Commission 7.2 8.2 10.1 10.6
Australian Sports Anti-Doping Authority 6.9 7.8 8.6 10.3
Australian Public Service Commission 7.9 7.9 11.4 10.3
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission 8.2 8.2 10.5 10.3
Defence Housing Australia 7.7 7.5 10.5 10.3
Federal Court of Australia 6.2 7.9 7.8 10.2
Australian National Audit Office 9.3 7.7 13.2 10.1
Geoscience Australia 8.3 7.1 10.7 9.9
Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority 4.8 5.9 7.5 8.9
National Disability Insurance Agency * 6.5 * 8.0

* Data for 2012–13 not available.

Table A7.3. Small agencies' unscheduled absence and sick leave, 2012–13 and 2013–14 (arranged from highest to lowest unscheduled absences in 2013–14)
Agency Sick leave 2012–13 Sick leave 2013–14 Total unscheduled absence 2012–13 Total unscheduled absence 2013–14
Source: Agency survey
Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity 11.5 10.4 19.9 19.8
Office of the Fair Work Building Industry Inspectorate 6.3 11.9 10.3 17.7
National Health and Medical Research Council 11.6 11.0 15.5 16.1
CrimTrac Agency 9.7 11.0 14.1 14.8
Australian Research Council 11.6 9.9 18 14.7
National Film and Sound Archive of Australia 9.5 11.0 13.4 14.6
Administrative Appeals Tribunal 8 8.1 12.2 14.4
Food Standards Australia New Zealand 10.6 10.2 11.3 14.1
Office of Parliamentary Counsel 9.5 11.0 12.1 14.1
Australian Transport Safety Bureau 6.1 8.0 10.4 13.5
Australian Skills Quality Authority 8.8 10.1 10.1 13.4
Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman 8.3 10.5 11.8 13.2
National Water Commission 6.4 10.0 9.7 13.1
Social Security Appeals Tribunal 10.9 9.4 14.2 13.1
Safe Work Australia 10.8 9.7 18.9 12.7
Royal Australian Mint 8.8 8.9 11.8 12.6
National Portrait Gallery of Australia * 9.3 * 12.5
Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies ** ** 10.1 12.3
Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority 8.5 8.8 10.8 11.5
Workplace Gender Equality Agency ** ** 11.1 11.4
National Museum of Australia 7.2 8.2 10 11.3
Australian Fisheries Management Authority 8.5 7.6 13.4 11.2
Australian Institute of Family Studies 8.6 7.7 11.9 11.2
Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission * 9.2 * 10.9
Office of the Australian Information Commissioner 8.6 8.3 12.8 10.6
Australian Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency 9.6 8.5 12.1 10.4
Tertiary Education Quality and Standards Agency 5.8 6.1 8.9 10.2
Australian Organ and Tissue Authority 7.1 7.0 8.7 9.6
Australian Institute of Criminology 7.8 8.3 9.1 9.5
Australian Human Rights Commission 5.4 7.5 7.2 9.5
Australian Office of Financial Management 6.6 6.2 10 9.4
National Health Performance Authority 7.6 6.0 8.6 9.2
National Blood Authority 4.7 6.1 5.8 9.2
Australian National Maritime Museum 6.3 6.7 8.2 9.0
Cancer Australia 5.3 6.3 6.7 8.8
Museum of Australian Democracy at Old Parliament House 9.4 6.7 12.6 8.7
Office of National Assessments 8.1 6.8 10.5 8.5
National Capital Authority 6.4 ** 8.2 8.5
Independent Hospital Pricing Authority 6 6.3 7 8.0
Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research 9.1 6.0 9.3 7.9
National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority 7 5.6 9.8 7.8
Productivity Commission 6 6.3 7.8 7.8
Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care 5.3 5.2 7.1 7.3
Commonwealth Grants Commission 4.6 4.8 14.4 6.6
Australian Aged Care Quality Agency * 4.7 * 6.0
Future Fund Management Agency 3.2 3.2 4.2 4.3

* Data for 2012–13 not available.

**Indicates an agency unable to disaggregate data.

Changes in unscheduled absence rates

The APS has seen an increase in both total unscheduled absence (0.4 days per employee) and sick leave (0.2 days per employee) in 2013–14. Across the APS, however, there is substantial variation in the changes in absence rates with one small agency having the highest increases from 2012–13 by a substantial magnitude. The Office of the Fair Work Building Inspectorate increased by 7.4 days per employee, which was made up predominantly by an increase in sick leave of 5.6 days per employee. Among the large agencies, the greatest increases were the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2.7 days per employee), followed by the Department of the Environment (2.3 days per employee) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (1.6 days per employee).

Almost one third of agencies (32 in total) experienced a decrease in their unscheduled absence rate. The largest decreases were in small agencies with the Commonwealth Grants Commission decreasing by 7.8 days per employee and Safe Work Australia decreasing by 6.2 days per employee. Eight large agencies showed decreases, with the Bureau of Meteorology experiencing a decrease of 2.7 days per employee and the Department of the Treasury decreasing by 1.5 days per employee. Notable among the medium agencies were the Australian National Audit Office, which decreased by 3.1 days per employee and the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, which decreased by 1.5 days per employee.

Previous analysis of unscheduled absence rates has shown no relationship between total unscheduled absence rate and change in absence rate from year to year. Analysis of 2013–14 data shows a slight relationship between overall rate and change in rate, however, this is largely due to a small number of agencies with very large increases in 2013–14 (Figure A7.1).

Figure A7.1. Change in unscheduled absence by agency, 2012–13 to 2013–14

Source: Agency survey

Unscheduled absence in detail

While unscheduled absence is a relatively broad category, the agency survey allows a more detailed view to be taken. Figures A7.2 to A7.4 show unscheduled absence rates by all components of unscheduled leave—sick leave, carer's leave, miscellaneous leave, compensation leave and unauthorised leave.

Again, agencies are grouped by size. As Figure A7.2 shows, a relatively consistent pattern of leave types make up unscheduled absence in large agencies. Sick leave represents the largest contribution, followed by carer's leave. There is some degree of variability in the amount of compensation leave granted—agencies with higher rates of total unscheduled absence typically having higher levels of compensation leave. Unauthorised absence consistently makes up only a very small proportion of total unscheduled leave rates.

Figure A7.2. Unscheduled absence by type—large agencies, 2013–14

Source: Agency survey

Figure A7.3 shows a similar pattern of leave types make up unscheduled absence in medium size agencies as large agencies, with sick leave being the largest cause of unscheduled absence and carer's leave also relatively common. The extent to which compensation leave contributes to overall agency unscheduled absence rates, however, appears greater than in large agencies. Miscellaneous leave also appears more variable in medium size agencies than in large agencies. Unauthorised absence is again generally low, except for Aboriginal Hostels Limited which recorded an average of more than two days unauthorised absence per employee.

Figure A7.3. Unscheduled absence by type—medium agencies, 2013–14

Source: Agency survey

Figure A7.4 shows the breakdown of total unscheduled absence for small agencies. Three small agencies were unable to disaggregate their personal leave data: National Capital Authority, Workplace Gender Equality Agency and the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies. While the pattern of leave types is similar to medium and large agencies, the extent to which compensation leave contributes to workplace absence is more varied. One small agency, the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, had the highest rates of compensation leave in the APS at 7.8 days per employee, while another, the Australian Research Council had the highest rate of miscellaneous leave of any agency (2.1 days). However, given the small number of employees in these agencies, it is possible that a small number of long term injury or illness cases accounted for the bulk of these figures.

Figure A7.4. Unscheduled absence by type—small agencies, 2013–14

Source: Agency survey


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Footnotes

1 Australian National Audit Office 2003, Absence Management in the Australian Public Service, Audit Report, No. 52 2002–03, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra.

2 Three agencies are not included in the data reported here because they were only able to provide data for part of the year and it was not considered possible to annualise their data with sufficient accuracy. These agencies were the Department of Education, the Department of Employment and the Torres Strait Regional Authority.