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TTC looks at ways to reduce $20M annual sick-time costs

‘Early contact’ program may get staffers back to work sooner, report recommends

Mar 19, 2007 04:30 AM
Tess Kalinowski
Transportation Reporter

The Toronto Transit Commission is looking at ways to get sick and injured workers back on the job sooner.

Absenteeism among its 8,000 unionized employees has been costing the TTC about $20 million annually for the past few years, according to a human resources report before the commission on Wednesday.

Since about 2000, the absentee rate has been rising by about 1 per cent a year, mainly because the workforce is aging, says the report. Last year, TTC workers took a total of 116,338 sick days, costing about $150 per day.

The report recommends the TTC spend $300,000 to test and evaluate an “early contact” system it hopes will get staff back to work sooner and potentially save about $2.4 million a year in absence-related costs.

Injured or ill employees would get a call at home in the first couple of days of sick leave to see when they might be able to return to work, said Kirsten Watson, senior director of human resources.

Someone who breaks a leg might think he or she needs to stay off work for eight weeks. But after a week of rest and recovery, it might be possible to return to work in a light-duty capacity that takes the injury into account, said Watson.

“We think if we can get them back to some kind of work, we’ll get them back (to their own job) sooner,” she said.

Growing ridership on the TTC probably contributes to rising absenteeism, said Bob Kinnear, president of the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 113.

“We’re in an industry where we’re dealing with thousands of people daily,” he said. “We’re more likely to catch the small cold that would put you out for a couple of days.”

Stress may also be a factor, Kinnear said, adding: “There’s a lot more congestion on the streets.” The union has suggested ideas such as exercise facilities to help employees stay healthier, he said.

In 2005, the TTC hired Mercer Human Resources Consulting to investigate its absentee rate. The additional $300,000 to test the early contact system would bring the cost of the project to $680,300, an expense the report says is worth it for the potential savings.