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Sick days cost UK plc £16.8bn

Marion Dakers
PUBLIC sector workers took 43 per cent more sick days than their private sector colleagues last year, according to research out today.

Workers in the public sector take an average of 8.3 days off sick per year, compared with 5.8 days per private sector employee, a survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and Pfizer found.

While the survey showed that sick days are at the lowest level since 1987, the 180m days of absence caused by illness cost the economy an estimated £16.8bn last year.

A CBI spokesman said: “The key difference between the two sectors is that the private sector is much better at managing long-term absence and bringing people back to work more effectively.

“Companies are investing a lot of money in quality rehabilitation. Some of the ideas could be replicated in the public sector, and would be a way to save a lot of money without cutting front line services,” he said.

Long term sick leave accounts for five per cent of all periods of absence, but makes up 20 per cent of lost days in private sector, and 36 per cent in the public sector.

The survey of human resources staff in 241 companies also showed that firms with more than 500 employees tend to lose around 1.7 more days per worker due to illness.

Around 15 per cent of sick days are faked, costing the country around £2.5bn a year.

CBI director of employment policy Katja Hall said: “The rate of employee absence has come down, but it still costs the economy billions of pounds a year.

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

More than three quarters of employers thought the “fit note”, which replaced the sick note in April, helps people get back to work. The fit note spells out aspects of jobs workers can still do even if they cannot return.