The British disease that should have been tackled long ago

Share
Related Topics

Another bank holiday weekend is in the offing and, with it, the all too predictable blackmail by certain trade unions intent on maximising their leverage with threats to inconvenience the holidaying public. Hardly had staff at British Airways announced their initial strike intentions two weeks ago, than the RMT union at Eurostar (one alternative to at least some of BA's destinations) decided to enter the fray.

Another bank holiday weekend is in the offing and, with it, the all too predictable blackmail by certain trade unions intent on maximising their leverage with threats to inconvenience the holidaying public. Hardly had staff at British Airways announced their initial strike intentions two weeks ago, than the RMT union at Eurostar (one alternative to at least some of BA's destinations) decided to enter the fray.

However these disputes are resolved, what we are seeing here is not just the face of irresponsible trade unionism. That certain unions are in a position to exert such leverage so predictably as a bank holiday approaches - in the case of British Airways, for what seems the umpteenth time - represents a serious failure of management. And so far as one of the chief causes of friction at BA is concerned - the question of paid sick leave - it is a failure common to many of Britain's biggest companies; one that employers are only now, rather late in the day, starting to address.

The number of days taken by staff in paid sick leave has risen exponentially over the years. Latest estimates say that sick leave costs the British economy as much as £13bn a year. According to BA, its staff take an average of 17 days off sick annually, compared with a UK average of seven. The company has offered a bonus to staff who take fewer than 16 sick days over two years. The unions, understandably, are resisting any move to link pay and sick leave, arguing that it will penalise those who are really ill.

That some staff are playing the system, however, is beyond doubt. Unplanned absence is a particular problem for the transport and services sectors, where the quality of service directly depends on the requisite number of staff turning up. As any London Underground commuter can confirm, cancellations due to staff shortages mysteriously rise around the time of certain football matches and either side of holiday weekends. No company with a reputation and a bottom line to defend can tolerate such fluctuations.

Large-scale moves to curb the number of days taken as sick leave began with the big supermarket chains. Tesco recently agreed with trade unions to stop paying workers for the first three days they take off sick. Asda also restricts sick pay while offering rewards for low absenteeism that include an extra week's leave. The Royal Mail will enter staff with good attendance records into a draw with cars and holiday vouchers as prizes. The means may differ, but the end is the same: to discourage people calling in sick when they are not.

Sticks and carrots may improve matters, but they are only part of the answer. Workers take unjustified sick leave for a range of reasons that include inflexible arrangements for taking time off, a sense that it hardly matters whether they turn up or not, and a feeling of entitlement - the belief, for instance, that their pay is so low that they "deserve" everything else they can get. The main reason, though, is probably because they can get away with it. Employers should have tackled the problem sooner.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £38,000

£16000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued expansion, an ...

Ashdown Group: Senior .Net Developer - Kingston Upon Thames, Surrey

£65000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A long-established, tech...

Ashdown Group: Editor-in-chief - Financial Services - City, London

£60000 - £70000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: A highly successful, glo...

Ashdown Group: Software Development Project Manager - Kingston Upon Thames

£55000 - £60000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: Experienced Software Dev...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Election catch-up: It looks more and more as if we should get used to Prime Minister Miliband

John Rentoul
 

i Editor's Letter: Most powerful woman in British politics

Oliver Duff Oliver Duff
Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders