ATO proposes controversial plan to cut sickies

by Chloe Taylor18 May 2015
The Australian Taxation Office (ATO) is planning to put a new incentive in place to tackle its “high levels of workplace absence” – namely regularly reminding employees of their absenteeism via email.

However, the ATO’s plans have already faced criticism, with one union suggesting that the technique is an attempt to email workers “back to health”.

According to reports by The Canberra Times, the ATO is set to trial a scheme where every one of its 20,000 employees will receive a regular email reminding them of their recent absence record. The emails will also reportedly include a comparison of each employee’s absenteeism to their colleagues’.

The Tax Office is among the worst performers of the larger Commonwealth departments when it comes to unscheduled absences; but the ATO’s absence rates have improved in recent years.

According to The Times, one of the ATO’s HR bosses, Margaret Jamison, told unions that she wanted to trial the system to gain a better understanding of “voluntary and avoidable absences”.

“The ATO is committed to supporting appropriate leave usage, as per enterprise agreement provisions, to assist employees to manage their general health and well-being, caring responsibilities, and family emergencies," Jamison said. “Like most APS agencies, however, we are currently working on a range of initiatives to address high levels of workplace absence.”

She added that the proposed emails would also improve employees’ comprehension of their workplace entitlements.

“Current considerations for inclusion are leave days during the past month, past 12 months, number of separate leave events during the past 12 months … visual 12 month calendar of leave taken, and a comparison of leave levels to the average in their business line.”

The new system has been tested on a small number of volunteers, but Jamison said that the plans were still being developed and there had been no definite decisions about whether the trial would go ahead.

The Australian Services Union (ASU) has criticised the proposal, with union official Jeff Lapidos referring to it as a sign that the ATO is “obsessed” with “the notion that employees are taking sick leave just for the fun of it”.

At the end of last year, the ASU’s criticism of an ATO anti-absence incentive led to the Tax Office abandoning the scheme


  • by Union Found wanting on Productivity issues in APS 18/05/2015 10:36:40 AM

    The union is out of touch with reality. APS sick leave is typically orders of magnitude different to private sector. Does this mean that the APS employees are more likely to be ill more often than private sector counter-parts? The union has gone into "entitlement protection" mode which does not help address the public's perception of the APS as a protected species.

    Having said that, emails alone will not address the underlying issues which needs face to face check-in after each absence. This means engaging with your absent direct and asking "Are you okay to come back to work?" as well as leaders taking some accountability for the high levels of absenteeism in their team. Why is the absenteeism higher in one area over another?

  • by Michael 18/05/2015 3:35:33 PM

    Money would be better spent trying to understand the reasons why absences are high. Absenteeism is symptomatic of underlying systemic issues.

  • by mick 18/05/2015 8:18:20 PM

    Sick pay is for sick people any thing else is poor management and perhaps fraud .

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