Duvet Days: Taking A Day (Or Two) Off Work

Did you wake up this morning and decide you didn’t want to go to work? If so,you definitely weren’t the only one. A CBI (Confederation of British Industry – the UK Employers’ Association) report has indicated that employees took an average of 7 days ‘off sick’ in 2006 compared to 6.6 the previous year. That amounts to 40 million ‘lost’ working days and a cost of over £11billion per annum to the British economy. Bosses apparently prefer to trust their staff but also know that about 12% of them are probably ‘pulling a sickie’.  70% of these use ‘fake illnesses’ to prolong weekends ( taking Monday or Friday or both off) and another 39%  watch or attend major sporting events (eg: football or rugby matches). Most people have succumbed to this temptation at some time. When it’s cold and raining outside and there are problems with the buses or underground and anyway the wages are not very good,why get up? Much better to phone in (hoping its not the boss who answers),muffle your voice with a Kleenex,croak that unfortunately you have a terrible cold,then go back to sleep and later have a leisurely lunch with friends.

Many of the cases,though,really are genuine and often the result of working hours in the UK  now being much longer than anywhere else in Europe.  13.4 million days off  per year are due to stress & anxiety and another 12.3 to back & ‘upper limb’ pains. Sitting (in the wrong posture) for hours staring at a computer screen can have  adverse consequences.State employees ( a quarter of all British workers) take 25% more time off than their counterparts in the private sector. Average absenteeism for ‘white collar (office) staff is 5.5 days p.a. but for blue collar (factory) workers 8.8. The UK is worse than Italy,Spain & Greece (warmer climate?) but better than Sweden,where 5% of the workforce is ‘unwell’ at any one time. British Airways suffer more from this problem than most other UK companies: Some BA staff are ‘off sick’ almost 3 & half weeks per year at an estimated cost of 626,250 ‘lost days’ and £60m.  Royal Mail tried an incentive scheme. Workers who didn’t take a single day off were automatically entered into a prize draw to win Ford Focus cars or holiday vouchers worth £2,000. Attendance levels rose immediately,but staff who really were ill were obviously upset as they couldn’t participate.

There is one other way of not turning up for work: Going on strike. Which is what the London Underground & postal unions did recently. Civil servants,prison officers,teachers ,local government,transport and postal workers are all threatening co-ordinated industrial action in protest  at Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s 2% pay limit and his privatisation plans. During the 1978/9 ‘Winter of Discontent’ (also against a Labour Government) even ambulance drivers,gravediggers and garbage collectors stopped work. If this really does happen again,the country will come to a halt and we can all stay in bed until its over.

Filed under: Society | Posted on September 1st, 2007 by Colin D Gordon

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