Rampant absenteeism among roadside garbage crews appears to have contributed to repeated failures to collect trash on time over the past 14 months.

Records supplied to the Cayman Compass through an open records request show the 47 full-time workers in the Department of Environmental Health’s roadside collection section took an average of 18 sick days each between November 2017 and November 2018.

Two employees each took a total of 10 weeks off sick during that time period.

In total, 835 working days – equivalent to a full year’s work for more than three employees – were lost to sickness. Seven employees took more than six weeks off sick and 16 had more than 20 sick days.

A Department of Environmental Health spokesperson acknowledged the statistics were “quite excessive.”

She said some of the employees had since left the department through “voluntary separation.”

She added that others were being monitored “to ascertain the genesis of their absences and provide them with any necessary support.”

The spokesperson made no mention of any serious illnesses or other major incidents or health concerns affecting one or more employees, when asked to explain the high number of sick days.

Minister for Environmental Health Dwayne Seymour has previously suggested absenteeism is a problem in the department. Speaking in the Legislative Assembly in November, he lamented a series of human resources issues, which he said government was working to resolve within the confines of civil service legislation.

“I don’t hire and fire and I have to respect the process, albeit the process does seem a little long,” he said at the time.

“It is embarrassing for our country that we have a national problem such as this and it couldn’t be remedied as quick as possible.”

Mr. Seymour did not respond to further requests for comment. Alva Suckoo, deputy Opposition leader, said the statistics on sick leave were concerning and provided further evidence of systemic problems within the department.

“I have to wonder if management is requiring a medical certificate verifying these illnesses and, if they are indeed legitimate, have they investigated the health and safety conditions within the department? Either way, this is clearly a management problem and someone has dropped the ball. There is no way this could happen in the private sector without drastic and immediate action,” he said.

Mr. Suckoo, whose Newlands constituency has been among those worst affected by late garbage pick-ups, said it was up to management at the DEH to get to grips with the problem. If there was abuse of the system by some employees, he said, it needed to be stamped out. He said Minister Seymour had had long enough to assess the problem and action was now needed.

“This problem has persisted for more than a year and it is time for the Minister to get a handle on it, own it, and resolve it,” he said. “The country can no longer tolerate this level of service, the threat to health and safety is too serious to ignore any longer.

“We need action now and if the Minister cannot deliver that, then he needs to step aside and allow someone else to do it.”

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  1. Bit of deja vu here for me. Back in my civil service days in the UK we had what was termed ‘USL’ or uncertified sick leave. In simple terms you could take 10 days a year off work by simply calling in sick. They were commonly referred to as ‘hangover days’ and used as extra leave. The only limitations were no more than three days at a time and you couldn’t use that concession to take a long weekend off or extend any public holiday. My department was fairly well behaved over this but in another section of the civil service (where my late father worked) managers actually expected their staff to take these days off and got concerned if they didn’t. Ah, the joys if working in the public sector?

    • @Kerith McCoy

      Moving away from my rather tongue-in-cheek comment earlier that is a serious point.

      Are the DEH employees who are exposed to the garbage being regularly screened (blood or urine tested) for exposure to toxins? Are their routine vaccinations (tetanus, hep, etc) being kept up to date? Are DEH complying with PPE (personal protective equipment) requirements? On an island with no equivalent authority to OSHA or the UK’s HSE I’d be interested to a see the reply from DEH to an FOI request for that info.