Unintended Consequences

Anyone with half a brain could have seen it coming. That no-one did is probably because there were politicians involved.

A couple of years back the Ontario government decided that sick leave for teachers was costing the province way too much. Change the system, the experts said, and reap the savings.

Under the old system teachers were entitled to 20 days of sick leave annually. If they didn’t use it they could carry it over to the following year. At retirement there was a gratuity if you had lots of unused leave.

I am sure the prospect of that gratuity meant some teachers worked when they would have been better off at home. But I understood the economics. A supply teacher gets a couple of hundred dollars a day, and the sick teacher is still on salary. So create an incentive to come to work and not take time off for minor illnesses.

To save money the province scrapped that system. The gratuity was gone, and sick days were cut to 11 (plus, I think, three days personal leave). Perhaps this made sense, given that the average was about nine days per teacher annually. Though it probably wasn’t noted that to get an average some people have to be over while others are under.

The biggest change though was that it was no longer cumulative. Unused sick leave is lost if you don’t use it by the end of the year.

You, having more than half a brain and understanding human nature, already know what I am going to say next. Last year Ontario’s teachers averaged 10 sick days each. Savings to the system? Zero. Extra costs? About a billion dollars.

I can’t say I blame the teachers, though I can’t see taking advantage of the system that way myself. They’ve effectively been told “use it or lose it,” so why would they hold back?

The law of unintended consequences states that “The law of unintended consequences, often cited but rarely defined, is that actions of people—and especially of government—always have effects that are unanticipated or unintended. Economists and other social scientists have heeded its power for centuries; for just as long, politicians and popular opinion have largely ignored it.

I’m a big fan of sick leave, of being able to hedge against illness. That being said, I don’t often take a day off for illness. I had a colonoscopy a few years back, and officially took a day off, but I was working from home as soon as the anesthetic wore off.  I’m not sure how good my work was that day, but I did it. I do have some sick leave accumulated in my present position, though I haven’t check recently to see how much. With only one day off sick in the past decade, I know I have about six months built up, should I need it. I’m hoping I never need it.

The rational thing for the Ontario government to do in this situation would be to admit they made a mistake and return to the old plan, or perhaps a slightly modified version of it. (As a taxpayer I have never been a fan of the retirement payout; sick leave should be for when you are sick. Mind you, as the husband of a healthy teacher with more than 30 years in the system, we would probably have received a pretty healthy payout.)

I don’t expect that to happen though. After all, there are politicians involved here. And politicians, especially the current bunch governing Ontario, don’t seem to have half a brain.

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4 comments

  1. […] from 2014. If music is more your desire you could click here. If you want to ponder social issues this post is what you want to read. And, since religion scored high on my reader survey last year, […]

  2. […] from 2014. If music is more your desire you could click here. If you want to ponder social issues this post is what you want to read. And, since religion scored high on my reader survey earlier this month, […]

  3. Brad Darbyson · · Reply

    “They’ve effectively been told “use it or lose it,” so why would they hold back?”

    The employment record of those demonstrating the more reliable constitutions should merit credit as a factor for professional advancement opportunity.

  4. Seems the concept of public service is not important anymore. The results suggest that few in this group is as responsible as you are. Or, maybe they are just more sick this year, but unlikely. So, it is a matter of economics, is it? We have a very large supply of qualified teachers with less demand. Interesting that has no downward effect on salaries. Mike Blank

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