The issue is causing considerable anger among frontline gardaí and middle-ranking officers and led to strong criticisms at a staff association conference this week.
Garda sick leave entitlement was halved last year from six months’ full pay, followed by six months’ half pay, to three months for each period — which is the general public sector standard. The changes, introduced on May 1, followed an unsuccessful legal action by garda staff associations.
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald said statistics showed 121,579 sick days were taken between April and December 2014. This was a 30% drop on the same period the previous year, when the figure stood at 173,884.
This figure breaks down to 84,115 days due to ordinary illness, compared to 142,257 the previous year (a fall of 34%) and 27,464 days due to injury on duty, compared to 31,627 (a drop of 13%).
Ms Fitzgerald said the fall in sick days was “a welcome development”.
However, a Garda Representative Association (GRA) spokesman said: “These figures can’t be taken at face value — there’s another story underneath. It is causing undue suffering to members who are already doing a difficult and stressful job.”
If a garda takes sick leave after the introduction of the scheme last May, those days are added to sick days taken in the previous four years.
“In reality, because of the retrospective nature of the change, members are having to go to work when they are not well,” said the spokesman. “It is not good for their wellbeing or for policing.”
He said members have gone to work in surgical collars and wearing slings.
“The garda job is different,” said the spokesman. “It has been well proven that rotating shift patterns are particularly stressful on the body and hammers the immune system.”
Tim Galvin, president of the Association of Garda Sergeants and Inspectors (AGSI), said the retrospective nature of the changes was causing most problems.
“The 30% reduction in sick days does not reveal the real impact,” he said. “A lot of people are coming into work sick because they can’t afford to go out sick and lose pay.
“It is because of what happened in the last four years. They should not take that into account.”
He recalled a garda involved in a serious investigation, in which his family had been threatened. He went off sick but, because of previous sick leave, was on half pay.
The issue was raised repeatedly by AGSI officers at their annual conference this week. AGSI vice-president Antoinette Cunningham said they had sought four times in the last seven weeks to meet Garda Commissioner Nóirín O’Sullivan on sick pay but to no avail.
She said frontline members had been left with no definition of occupational injury, no guidelines as to what constituted a critical illness, and no policy on previous injuries on duty.