Recently, as I was reading through the Globe and Mail, I came across yet another piece questioning the validity of teachers in Ontario banking sick days. In the piece, Barrie McKenna was whining about, among other things, how there is a widening gap between the public and private sectors in this particular area. “The ability to bank sick days”, he moans, “is virtually unheard of in the private sector.”
My question is “Why the heck not?”.
Let’s look at sick days from an employer’s standpoint. Let’s say Bob owns a brake shop. Billy, the brakeman, wakes up one morning and feels a bit “under the weather.” He calls Bob at 7:30 and says he can’t come in to work because he is ill. (Please be aware that no actual brakepeople were harmed during the writing of this blog. I am not anti mechanic. My brake man’s name is Russel. E-mail for his number.)
Anyway, Billy calls in sick. Bob either has to call another mechanic or tell his customers that because he is “Down a guy” their appointment has to be “Pushed back” or cancelled. No matter how you slice it, Billy’s sick day costs money. Either Bob has to pay Billy AND another mechanic, or Bob loses customers.
We have all heard this at one point in our lives. In some cases (The doctor is sick today.) you simply accept it. In some cases, like as in poor Bob’s Brake Shop, you probably take your business elsewhere. But what if Billy wakes up that morning, feeling a bit under the weather, takes some dayquil, and goes to work? Bob’s Brake Shop benefits because of Billy’s experience, training and dedication to his craft.
What seems to be often missing from this debate is the understanding that Billy is a valuable commodity who makes Bob money. Why can’t more Canadian workers recognize that in themselves?
The private sector doesn’t want workers to bank sick days? Ok, so lets assume that Billy gets 10 per year. When he was hired, Bob agreed to pay Billy his salary, plus pay him for 10 days when he did not show up. Those ten days are dollars that Bob has to plan for in his budget. It’s money he has to be ready to spend. But if Billy doesn’t use them, where does that money go? In Bob’s pocket. Billy is, in effect, giving money to his employer.
And what if Billy takes no sick days in year one, but then needs 11 in year two? Bob, presumably, has money put aside over those two years to allow Billy 20 sick days. But you and I both know that when Billy calls in sick on day 11, he’s not getting paid.
Finally, let’s assume that Bob counts every sick day that Billy does not take. On another line of his books, he puts down the cost for lost customers and paying “substitute” labour that he did not incur for each of those days. At the end of twenty-five years, I challenge anyone to tell me that paying Billy out his sick days is more expensive than Billy using up his ten each year.
I do not believe Barrie McKenna is upset at teachers. I do not believe that the general public is upset at teachers. I believe that the issue is that teachers have an awareness of self-worth that has been eroded in many other sectors. It is our insistence that this self-worth be recognized by our employer that is such a consternation for politicians, pundits and writers like Mr. McKenna.
It may be time for Canadians to stop asking “Why should teachers get that?” and to start asking “Why shouldn’t everyone?”