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Last Updated: Monday, 17 May, 2004, 14:06 GMT 15:06 UK
Unions watch Tesco sick day plan
Tesco store front
The company said the outcome of the trials was not certain
Trade unions have given a wary welcome to a pilot scheme by supermarket chain Tesco aimed at cutting sick days.

The company is considering plans where workers would get extra holiday or benefits if they did not take days off.

More controversial, however, is the idea of only giving sick pay if people are off for more than three days and provide a doctor's note.

Shopworkers' union Usdaw said it was monitoring the scheme and was working closely with the company.

Free choice

Usdaw spokesman Kevin Hegarty said that the union had no objection to the pilot scheme, but added that this "was not the same as fully supporting it".

Mr Hegarty pointed out that the trial was being run on a purely voluntary basis and would not affect any staff who already had contracts with Tesco.

Other trade unions were more reticent about speaking on the record, but said that sick pay was an important part of an employer's relationship with staff.

They classed it in the same category as pension provisions and holiday pay.

If anything, they said, the number of people taking so-called "sickies" was dropping and they were against any plan that increased pressure on workers to come in when unwell.

Good reception

Sick leave - real and feigned - currently costs UK businesses an estimated 11bn a year.

Tesco, which recently reported profits of 1.7bn, said it was looking to cut levels of unplanned absence and is introducing the measures in about 20 stores.

It has already introduced the scheme in its Irish stores, where the company says absenteeism rates are lower.

It added that feedback from staff was positive.

By law a company in the UK is not obliged to pay for sick pay itself, and it is down to contractual agreements between the workers and employer.

The state, however, does underwrite a set level of support - known as "statutory sick pay" - to workers after the third day off.

Is Tesco right to not pay workers who take a day off because of sickness?

Your comments

An incentive based scheme - e.g. offering more holiday for a good sickness record - makes most sense, especially if combined with the need to show one was really ill and not faking it. It would reward those of us who follow the rules rather than penalising us along with the rule-breakers. I know proof of illness may well be difficult/contentious, but even so it has to be worth trying out - so I hope that part of the Tesco pilot comes up with some good solutions.
John, Wokingham, UK

I think this will backfire as workers who are genuinely sick will haul themselves into work spreading whatever they've got bringing down the overall productivity of the company. It's also not clear what will happen if a worker is too sick to work and they're sent home. Is this a way of cutting pay to a worker by the backdoor?
Mark Lowes, Somerset

This will put stress on people to attend work when they are not well enough too
F. Jarvis, Chichester, UK

No it isn't right that Tesco do that - how can they say they are not penalising those who are genuinely ill when they talk of it being unpaid? This will put stress on people to attend work when they are not well enough too, which can make them worse or spread any infection to their colleagues.
F. Jarvis, Chichester, UK

This, while being a good idea on paper, is not in practice. It is treating everyone as 'guilty until proven innocent', an attitude which will cause ill workers to feel they must come into work, usually infecting others and the public when they do. Or a female employee who has severe menstrual cramps for 2 days would not be able to claim payment for the time she is off in agaonising pain because it wasn't for 3 days. I pray that this policy is never discussed at my place of work, else I think the entire workforce would walk out on strike.
Anon, Wiltshire

Absolutely not. It is all about profit for these large supermarket chains. They are either ripping off the customer with high prices or now penalising their staff if they have a bad cold.
Trevor, Scotland

I presume either you or The Observer have misquoted Mr Patel. There certainly is a "law entitling you to sick pay". The Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 requires employers to pay statutory sick pay to eligible employees. However no payment is required for the first three qualifying days.
Sue Welsh, Shrewsbury, Shropshire

Yet another example of western management reactionary measures to a single bottom line figure
John Maguire, Glasgow UK
Yet another example of western management reactionary measures to a single bottom line figure. Have the effects on attrition rates, staff morale and customer service been taken into account? Do they really think their customers want people coughing and spluttering over them while they shop? Tesco would be better advised to attempt to understand why staff stay off sick when they are not sick - remember they are the ones recruiting these people!
John Maguire, Glasgow UK

Changing incentives to reduce absenteeism is addressing the symptom rather than the cause. What Tesco, and other similar employers, need to ask is 'what is the cause?'. When these are identified then appropriate steps can be taken to address the cause of the problem.
Keith Gilkes, Maidstone, Kent

That is possibly the vilest thing I have ever read about a major UK company. Tesco makes profits of 1.7bn and yet won't pay its workers when they are off sick. It's disgusting! We should all boycott.
Larry Schlesinger, London, UK

Tesco stops pay to cut 'sickies'
17 May 04  |  Business
Sick workers struggle on, say unions
23 Jan 04  |  West Midlands
Tesco boss gets shorter contract
07 Apr 04  |  Business
Tesco wins pay battle
13 Jun 03  |  Business

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