Northern council staff top sick league table

IT SOUNDS like a soundbite from a 1980s Tory party conference but sadly it is officially true. A blue-collar male public sector worker in the north of England with trade union membership is more likely to take sick leave than any other employee.

A study of rates of absence due to sickness over the 26 years between 1971 and 1997 found huge variations across regions, gender, age and job category. It examined the amount of time which full-time workers reported having been off work ill as a proportion of their contracted hours. The study, published by the Office for National Statistics, found South Yorkshire and Merseyside topped the list with more than 4 per cent. The regions with the least sick leave were the South-East outside London, East Anglia and the South West - all with rates at or below 3 per cent.

The researchers found rates of absence of members of trade unions or staff associations were 1.5 per cent below non-members. The latest data, for autumn 1997, put the rates at about 4.2 per cent and 3.6 per cent respectively. Private sector absence rates also undershot those for the public sector with the gap widening recently to 2.8 per cent and 3.7 per cent.

The health and social work sectors had the largest rate at 4.6 per cent, followed by public administration and defence and education. Agriculture, hunting and forestry achieved the lowest figure of 2.3 per cent. Blue- collar workers also took more time off than white-collar workers.

"Labour Market Trends" published by Office for National Statistics: 0171 873 8499.

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