'Sickies' cost the country £2.5bn a year

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The Independent Online

Workers took an average of six and a half days off sick last year, the lowest on record, new research showed today.

A small improvement in the public sector absence rate helped the fall, but it remained "significantly" higher than the private sector rate, said the CBI report.

Employees took 180 million sick days last year, averaging 6.4 days each, down from 6.7 in 2007 and the lowest since the CBI survey began in 1987.

The impact of staff absence was said to remain "considerable", with the 180 million sick days costing employers about £16.8 billion last year, plus indirect costs like reductions in customer service and delays to teamwork.

The CBI maintained that workers pulling "sickies" was still a problem facing UK companies.

Senior human resources staff surveyed for the CBI at 241 public and private-sector organisations estimated around 15%, or 27 million sick days, were not genuine, and cost the country £2.5 billion a year.

Larger organisations had higher rates of absence than small ones.

Katja Hall, the CBI's director of employment policy, said: "The rate of employee absence has come down, but it still costs the economy billions of pounds a year. If absence levels across the board could be reduced by 10%, the economy would see annual savings of just under £1.7 billion.

"Unfortunately, bogus sick days remain a problem, and are unfair on hard-working colleagues and employers alike."

Public sector workers took an average of 8.3 days off last year, 43% higher than the private sector figure of 5.8 days.

The public sector's record has improved since the last CBI absence survey in 2007, when the average was nine days.

Ms Hall said: "Although the rate of employee absence has fallen in the public sector, it is still a lot higher than in the private sector, and this issue should be addressed, especially given that the public finances are strained. We estimate that £5.5 billion could be saved by 2015-16 if the public sector matched the private sector's absence rate.

"Improved rehabilitation and workplace health policies are a key part of achieving this, but so is ensuring that absence, where it occurs, is justified."

Dr Berkeley Phillips, UK medical director at Pfizer, which helped with the research, added: "We have long known that mental health, back pain and other musculoskeletal disorders are the leading causes of long-term absence, and this year's CBI report reinforces this.

"Whilst employers view loss of productivity as the main impact of absence, as this report highlights, the economic consequences stretch much further and as such, we as a society need to do more to advance health and wellness at every stage of life."

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