Stress Leave in the Public Sector

Statement attributed to Rikki Hendon, Assistant Secretary of CPSU/CSA:

The release of the Insurance Commission’s findings of mental stress claims by public servants rising by 40 per cent in two years, highlights the immense stress currently being felt across the sector.

There are many factors which contribute to the higher incidence of stress claims in the public sector than the private sector.

This is a common problem across the country. The public sector always has a higher incidence of stress claims because it includes roles that expose workers to highly traumatic and stressful situations.

Insurance Commission deputy chief executive Rick Howe specifically named child protection workers on 720ABC as a highly stressful position within the public sector.

These frontline workers, as well as emergency personal and hospital workers, view trauma in their daily work which, if left unaddressed, can cause major mental stress. 

Therefore, it’s not surprising to see the higher incidence of claims in the public sector, as there are so few private enterprises that deal with frontline trauma.

Another factor is the increased awareness of mental health.

Most people are now more aware of mental stress as a legitimate injury, so more stress claims are being reported each year.

The removal of the mental health stigma may be resulting in a rise in claims but, more importantly, it means workers can get the help and treatment they need.

WA, though, has faced its own set of challenges in the public sector in recent years.

The WA public sector has gone through substantial change over the past few years; with agency mergers, thousands of jobs made redundant and increased community demand for public services.

That means public sector workers are doing more with less. They are doing the work of two or three people, they are under resourced, staying late to keep up and are not able to take leave, with leave liability now over $300 million.  

These issues also increase stress in the general government sector. 

With reports like this exposing the impacts of stress on the public sector, clearly more work needs to be done to prevent incidents that lead to mental health claims.


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