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Last Updated: Friday, 7 January, 2005, 10:28 GMT
UK sick culture branded a 'myth'
man sneezing
The TUC is concerned that sick people may infect others at work
Claims that UK workers take too much time off work due to illness have been branded a "myth" by a TUC report.

The report said UK employees take fewer days off as a result of short term sickness than workers in all other European countries, except Denmark.

A far bigger problem than short term absenteeism is workers struggling into work when sick and infecting their colleagues, the report added.

However, one employer group said that 15% of sick leave was not genuine.

Countries with the worst short term sickness rates
Source: TUC Sick Note Britain survey

"Sick note Britain is an urban myth. We take less time off than most other countries, and public sector staff are less likely to take time off for a short term illness," TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said.

"When employers complain of sick note Britain, they are attacking some of Europe's most loyal employees."

According to the report, out of 12 EU countries looked at, workers in the UK were amongst the least likely to take time off due to short term illness.

In fact, less than 5% of working time was lost in the UK due to short term sickness.

Countries with the best short term sickness rates
Source: TUC Sick Note Britain survey
Major economic competitors such as Germany, France and Italy all lost more than 5% of working time due to short term sickness.

Portuguese workers took the most time off sick, with nearly 10% of working time lost to short term illness.

Flexible working

Nevertheless, Mr Barber called for the introduction of more flexible working to help cut sick leave in the private and public sectors.

In response, the CBI's Richard Dodd told BBC News that most employers already offered flexible working.

Employers have told us that up to 15% of absence is not genuine
Richard Dodd, CBI

The CBI already produces its own annual sickness report.

"Our research has shown that 84% of employees offer their workers some form of flexible working arrangement."

In addition, Mr Dodd said that the fact the report focused on short term sickness rather than long term sickness meant its conclusions were flawed.

"The total bill for sick days is 11.7bn a year, the vast majority of this cost arises from long term absence."

"As for bogus sickness being a myth, employers have told us that up to 15% of absence is not genuine."

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