Travel sickness: Tube staff took over 163,000 sick days last year, the highest level in five years


In 2014, London Underground employees took over 152,000 days off sick (Source: Getty)

​Tube staff took over 163,000 sick days last year, the highest level in five years and more than twice the national average.

Figures obtained by City A.M. show that staff working for London Underground took 163,152 days off sick in 2015, a year plagued by the threat of strike action as the Night Tube battled opposition from unions.

The per employee absenteeism tally for the Tube staff works out at around 9.2 days a year. This compares with an average number of sick days for London workers of 3.5 days annually. UK-wide, the average is 4.5 sick days a year.

“London commuters suffer delayed and cancelled services due to understaffing on a daily basis and it is an important issue that must be addressed,” said London Assembly member and GLA Conservative transport spokesman Keith Prince.

Staff sickness figures at London Underground for the first four months of 2016 stand at 57,610 days. If this level of absence through illness continues throughout 2016, this year will end up seeing a far higher rate of absenteeism than 2015. London Underground, which is a subsidiary of Transport for London (TfL), employs over 18,300 operational staff with a full-time equivalent of around 17,700 employees. This includes everyone from train drivers, engineers, traffic coordinators, customer service assistants, and project managers.

The sickness rate has been rising for several years. In 2014, London Underground employees took over 152,000 days off sick compared to almost 145,000 a year earlier.

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Prince said: “Clearly if people are genuinely unwell they should not be forced to come in to work but there appears to be a disproportionate rise in the number of sick days taken by Tube staff over the past four years.

“It is vitally important that the mayor ensures TfL has stringent checks in place to prevent staff abusing the system and wasting precious man hours in fraudulent sick leave.”

Year Absence Days
2010   148,082
2011   139,607
2012   133,820
2013   143,938
2014    152,678
2015    163,152
2016 (until April)             57,610

Caroline Pidgeon, Liberal Democrat assembly member and chair of the London Assembly Transport Committee, said: “The fact that sickness leave at TfL is higher than the UK workforce average and has also been growing for a number of years is clear evidence that TfL needs a new action plan to help reduce staff sickness.”

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A TfL spokesperson said: “Our 18,300 operational staff currently have an attendance rate of nearly 95 per cent. Any staff member on sick leave is treated with fairness and consistency and employees with poor levels of attendance are given an opportunity to improve.

“However, failure to meet the standards required results in disciplinary action or termination of employment,” he added.