CBI and TUC surveys highlight the costs of employee sickness

Two separate reports, published in September 1998, highlight the cost of sickness at work in the UK in very different ways.

A survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), published in September 1998, indicates that sickness and other forms of absence cost British firms an estimated GBP 11 billion in total in 1997. Some 197 million days of work were lost, and the cost worked out at GBP 478 per employee for the year. The figures show that the costs to business remained broadly unchanged from those of the previous year. Minor illness was the main cause of absence, followed by serious ill-health, family responsibilities, personal problems and work pressure. The survey also found that workers in the public sector took more time off than those in the private sector. The CBI reported that stress-related illness was not among the most significant causes of absence, despite other surveys indicating that long hours and pressure at work affect the health of employees.

The CBI says that the huge cost of absence is a key concern for management and that the key to cutting these costs is for managers to take an increasingly active role. John Cridland, the CBI's director of human resources, said that "more flexible working arrangements can also help employees strike a balance between working and home life and contribute to reducing absenteeism."

The CBI survey was published in the same month that a Trades Union Congress (TUC) report, Focus on union legal services, revealed that in 1997 unions won over GBP 300 million in court cases for members who were the victims of injury or ill-health at work. This brought the total secured by union legal action over the past five years to GBP 1.5 billion. The report highlights that stress topped the list of grounds for cases brought by the unions on behalf of their members in 1997. Most personal injury awards (72%) fell between GBP 1,000 and GBP 15,000, while 21.5 % were above the GBP 15,000 level. The TUC general secretary,John Monks said that "unions provide unbeatable legal help to members made ill or injured through their work. We provide the safety net for working people who cannot afford their own lawyer, cannot rely on legal aid and cannot otherwise obtain justice."

It would seem that trade union legal services continue to be extremely cost-effective. In 1997, according to the TUC, unions spent GBP 15 million on such services, just 5% of the personal injury damages that they secured.

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