Pulling a "sickie" cost UK economy £1.7bn last year

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The Independent Online

More than 23 million working days were lost to staff "pulling sickies" last year at a cost to the economy of £1.7bn. Workplace absence cost the UK economy £12.2bn in 2004 - up from £11.6bn in 2003 - according to a survey published today by the CBI, the employers' group, and the insurer AXA.

More than 23 million working days were lost to staff "pulling sickies" last year at a cost to the economy of £1.7bn. Workplace absence cost the UK economy £12.2bn in 2004 - up from £11.6bn in 2003 - according to a survey published today by the CBI, the employers' group, and the insurer AXA.

The total number of days lost fell 4.5 per cent to 168 million in 2004 from 176 million in 2003, although the average direct cost rose to £495 per employee compared with £475 in the 2003 survey.

The CBI said it believed one in seven of those absences was for a fictitious illness. Its survey of more than 500 firms found most suspected some workers called in sick on a Friday or Monday to take a long weekend while two out of three said they noticed an increase in absence levels.

John Cridland, the deputy director-general of the CBI, said: "Employers understand that staff are not invincible and nobody is saying genuinely ill staff should drag themselves to work. But let's be honest about this - there are some employees who will gladly award themselves a day off when they are in good health at the expense of their employers and hard-working colleagues."

The survey, conducted every year since 1987, shows manufacturing firms reported higher absence levels than service sector companies in 2004 - seven days lost per employee compared with six. Public sector absence outstripped private sector absence by almost three days per employee in 2004. Absence averaged 9.1 days per public sector employee and 6.4 per private sector worker.

The South-west lost the most working days to absence (eight per employee), followed by the North-west (7.9), the West Midlands and northern England (both 7.5 days), Yorkshire and the Humber (7.4) and the South-east (7.3). The lowest absence levels were in Northern Ireland (5.9) and Greater London (5.6).

Brendan Barber, the general secretary of the TUC, said: "The CBI seem to think workers are all throwing sickies, but the truth is that sickness absence is in decline and we go sick less than workers in nearly every other European country."

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