56.3 hours

per FTE in 2020 (-1.4 vs 2019)
Sick leave (paid)

7.1 hours

per FTE in 2020 (+0.7 vs 2019)
Carer’s leave

3.7 hours

per FTE in 2020 (+2.7 vs 2019)
Special leave

149.3 hours

per FTE in 2020 (-10.7 vs 2019)
Recreation leave

Severe bushfires in NSW and the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. Analysis of the main categories of leave can help identify the impact of the workforce availability.

Table 10.1: Average hours of leave taken per FTE in the total public sector, 2017–2020

  2017 2018 2019 2020
Sick leave (paid)  59.0  59.7 57.7  56.3 
Carer's leave 5.1 5.5 6.4 7.1
Special leave 0.9 0.8 1.0 3.7
Recreation leave1 163.2  162.7  159.9  149.3 


Recreation leave decreased by 10.7 hours per FTE compared to 2019. This is a notable decrease given the relative consistency of the level of leave in the previous three years. This is likely to reflect the need to cancel overseas travel due to COVID-19, and the level of resources required to respond to both the severe bushfires and the pandemic.

Special leave increased by 2.7 hours per FTE, more than triple the level of the previous three years. This increase reflects the impact of the severe bushfires and the pandemic on NSW public sector workforce availability because there were provisions to use special leave in certain circumstances in both events.

Sick leave decreased 1.4 hours per FTE compared to 2019. While the level of sick leave can vary, this figure could partly reflect the increase in work-from-home arrangements, and decreased travel and social interaction in response to the pandemic.

Carer’s leave increased 0.7 hours per FTE compared to 2019. This follows a longer-term trend of increases in this category of leave and may not specifically relate to these events.

Special leave

All services saw a substantial increase in average special leave hours per FTE in 2020. The Public Service and other Crown services had the highest level of special leave per FTE in the government sector (4.9 hours), with other Crown services reporting the largest increase (4.2 hours) compared to 2019.

Table 10.2: Average special leave hours by service, 2019–2020

Service  2019 hours per FTE  2020 hours per FTE  Change (hours) 
Public Service 1.7 4.9 3.2
NSW Health Service  0.5 3.5 3.0
NSW Police Force 1.8 3.8 2.0
Teaching Service  0.5 2.3 1.8
Transport Service 0.9 3.3 2.4
Other Crown services  0.7 4.9 4.2
Total government sector  0.8 3.7 2.9
Total public sector 1.0 3.7 2.7


The increase in special leave was driven by increases in the agencies most affected by COVID-19 and the bushfires, such as frontline health and emergency service agencies. Within the Public Service, the Office of the NSW Rural Fire Service reported special leave hours per FTE of 46.9 (up 36.7 hours) while the Sydney Opera House Trust reported an increase of 27.5 hours. Within other Crown services, NSW Trains and Sydney Trains also reported large increases in special leave of 7 hours and 6.3 hours respectively. There was also a large increase from 0.4 hours to 4.7 hours per FTE for School Administrative and Support Workers within other Crown services. Almost all NSW Health Service agencies and all Local Health Districts reported substantial increases in special leave hours per FTE.



There is a well-established link between the age of employees and the rate of PUA. In 2020, the gap in average hours per FTE for those aged 50 or over, compared to those under 50, widened slightly to 21.0 hours (76.7 hours and 55.7 hours, respectively). This is a continuation of a trend that has seen this gap widening over the past 10 years, from 11.8 hours in 2010. This occurred even though the biggest reduction in PUA by age group between 2019 and 2020 was in the 55–59 age band (-2.2 hours per FTE). This decrease in the 55–59 age band was offset by increases in average PUA for people aged 60 or over, and there were broad decreases in all age bands below 59, contributing to the widened gap in 2020.

In 2020, similar to 2019, PUA hours per FTE increased incrementally with each successive five-year age band, except for people aged 40–49, where the figure remained stable before increasing again for older cohorts (see Figure 10.1).

The rate of PUA decreased across all the younger age groups between 2019 and 2020 but increased for all people aged over 60.

Table 10.6: Paid unscheduled absence by age, 2019–20204

Age 2019 hours per FTE 2020 hours per FTE Change (hours)
15-19 40.5 38.5 -2.0
20-24 44.5 43.5 -1.0
25-29 49.8 48.5 -1.3
30-34 56.6 55.7 -0.9
35-39 60.1 59.3 -0.8
40-44 59.6 58.4 -1.3
45-49 60.6 59.0 -1.6
50-54 63.8 62.8 -1.0
55-59 74.2 72.0 -2.2
60-64 84.7 88.3 3.6
65+ 103.6 107.9 4.3
Total public sector 64.1 63.5 -0.6


1 Note that due to the unique leave arrangements for schools, the Teaching Service and School Administrative and Support Workers are excluded from all recreation leave figures.

2 Some entities that did not exist in 2019 or had fewer than five FTE have been excluded from this calculation.

3 The Sales Worker category has been excluded due to its small size, so totals do not match total sector figures.

4 Records where employee age is unknown are included in total sector figures. These accounted for 0.01% of total FTE in 2019 and 0.02% in 2020.