Absence from work – Cyprus

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Health and well-being at work,
  • Working conditions,
  • Published on: 20 July 2010



About
Country:
Cyprus
Author:
Polina Stavrou
Institution:

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

This report deals with the problem of absence from work and examines its extent as well as the policies and measures taken to limit it. Absence from work is not a subject of great concern to Cypriot society. The available data show a steady upward trend in lost working days and costs stemming from absence, mainly for health reasons; however, this is not considered to be a major issue, since employment rates have also been increasing at a steady pace in Cyprus.

Definitions and aims of study

Absence from work is frequently discussed in terms of its costs. These costs were outlined in a report published by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions (Eurofound) in 1997: Preventing absenteeism in the workplace. Since that time – as many reports of the European Working Conditions Observatory (EWCO) and of the European Industrial Relations Observatory (EIRO) note – it has become an issue in many countries; one approach has been to try to reduce the costs by tightening rules on sick pay.

In addition to a focus on costs, sickness absence has been connected to wider debates on the quality of work in two main respects. Firstly, there is growing interest in well-being and health at work. Attention has thus turned to positive ways in which well-being can be promoted, with improved attendance being a possible consequence. Secondly, the concept of ‘presenteeism’ – meaning being present at work while feeling ill or being unable to work at normal capacity – has emerged. Presenteeism may mean that measured absence levels are low but also that there are hidden stresses and pressures on employees.

The purpose of this comparative study is to provide an overview of the extent of absence from work and policies for its management, and to place this overview in the context of wider debates on well-being and presenteeism. The report assesses the current picture in terms of the level of absence and how the problem is treated – purely in terms of cost or in relation to the quality of work. It also examines the effect of the economic recession on levels of absence and how the problem is viewed.

Absence is defined as non-attendance at work when attendance was scheduled or clearly expected. The specific focus is a period of absence lasting longer than three days; the comparative analysis seeks information on this level of absence but recognises that data may not always be available.

The study has two main themes: the extent and patterns of absence, together with any trends; and the means of control and policies towards absence.

Extent and patterns of absence

1. Broad patterns

Where data are sought on the extent of absence, please use if possible the definition given in the briefing note. If available data do not distinguish between absence lasting longer than three days and all absences, please provide the closest available figure.

(a) Please describe the main data sources for absence from work at national level. How are the data collected, and how is absence defined? Are the data broken down according to the length of absence? Which spells of absence are taken into consideration (e.g. three to 19 days and 20 days or more)?

The official sources of information and data collection regarding absence from work at national level are the Social Insurance Services (Υπηρεσίες Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, ΥΚΑ) and the Department of Labour Inspection (Τμήμα Επιθεώρησης Εργασίας) – which are departments of the Ministry of Labour and Social Insurance (Υπουργείο Εργασίας και Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων, MLSI) – as well as the Statistical Service of Cyprus (Στατιστική Υπηρεσία Κύπρου, CYSTAT).

YKA collects data on insured workers who claim sickness benefits. In order to receive sickness benefit, the insured worker must submit a claim to the District Social Insurance Office, accompanied by a medical certificate stating the nature of the illness and the length of time that the employee is unable to work. For paid employees, payment of the sickness benefit begins on the fourth day of absence from work due to illness; for self-employed people, payment begins after the first nine days of illness. However, when a self-employed person is unable to work due to accident or is admitted to a hospital or clinic for at least one day, the benefit is payable beginning on the fourth day of inability to work. YKA collects claims for sickness benefits but does not make any analysis of the data, nor does it categorise patients according to gender, age, the reason for the accident or the time absent from work.

The Department of Labour Inspection receives notifications of occupational accidents and occupational illnesses from employers for their employees, and also from self-employed people. The department examines the notifications and they are then referred to YKA so that workers may receive the relevant benefits. No further analysis of the data is conducted, however, except for a list of the main causes of accidents.

CYSTAT collects data from the above MLSI departments but performs no analysis of such data.

(b) Please state the average overall current level of absence either in terms of % of working time lost or number of working days a year. What has been the trend over the past five years?

In Cyprus, no data are available on absence, apart from those provided by YKA, which are based on claims for sickness benefit or employment injury benefit due to occupational accidents.

According to the statistical data (in Greek) published by YKA, between 2001 and 2007, claims for sickness benefit steadily increased in number. Specifically, in 2001, YKA received 48,010 claims for sickness benefits, whereas in 2007 the number had risen by about 20%, to 60,792 claims. These data include people employed in the private and public sectors.

Regarding the claims received by YKA for payment of employment injury benefit due to occupational accidents, their numbers have been increasing in the last five years. Specifically, in 2002, YKA received 2,032 claims; by 2007, this total had risen to 2,378 claims – an increase of around 17%. The number of days of incapacity to work of insured persons due to injury was 53,585 in 2002, and reached 103,102 days in 2007 – a 23% increase.

(c) Please provide a breakdown of absence by gender. What has been the trend over the past five years?

Regarding sickness benefit, YKA has not categorised the claims for payment of this benefit according to gender. However, the claims for employment injury benefit received by YKA include data on gender in the MLSI annual report. It is particularly apparent from the claims submitted to YKA for employment injury benefits that the vast majority of claimants are men (79%), and therefore men are most likely to be absent from work due to employment injury. Nevertheless, in the last five years, a slight decrease has been observed in the percentage of men claiming employment injury benefits, compared with that of women.

(d) Please provide a breakdown of absence by age groups (if possible, according to the following age groups: 15–29, 30–49 and 50 years). What has been the trend over the past five years?

Although age is included in the claims for sickness and employment injury benefits, no aggregate data are available from YKA.

(e) Please provide any available estimates for the proportion of the total volume of absence a year due to short (3–19 days’ duration) spells and long-term absence (20 days or more). Have there been any changes in the prevalence of short-term and long-term levels of absence over the past five years?

In Cyprus, no data are available on length of absence, either from YKA or from other official information sources. Thus, it is not possible to calculate the difference between long and short spells of absence.

(f) Please give the level of absence in small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) with fewer than 250 employees) compared with large organisations.

This figure is not included in the claims for any type of benefits from YKA or in other official sources of information. Therefore, it is not possible to compare the level of absence in SMEs and large enterprises.

(g) Using the table below, please provide the latest figures on absence levels by activity sectors.

In Cyprus, no data are available on the level of absence according to economic activity. The only available data by economic activity concerning figures on incapacity to work are days lost due to injury caused by workplace accidents. These data are available in the MLSI 2007 annual report (in Greek) and are shown in Table 1.

Table 1: Days lost due to injury caused by workplace accidents, by sector, 2007
Economic sector Number of days lost due to occupational accidents
Total 103,102
(A) Agriculture, hunting and forestry 2,883
(B) Fishing 7
(C) Mining and quarrying 1,213
(D) Manufacturing 23,774
(E) Electricity, gas and water supply 156
(F) Construction 27,757
(G) Wholesale and retail trade 15,478
(H) Hotels and restaurants 12,445
(I) Transport, storage and communication 3,144
(J) Financial intermediation 946
(K) Real estate, renting and business activities 2,754
(L) Public administration and defence 5,041
(M) Education 753
(N) Health and social work 526
(O) Other community, social and personal activities 4,930
(P) Activities of households 1,291
(Q) Extra-territorial organisations and bodies 4

2. Causes of absence

(a) Please describe the main causes of absence as identified in national surveys. Are there differences according to gender, company size or sector of economic activity?

In Cyprus, there is a significant knowledge gap regarding the subject of absence from work. The only available source referring to this issue is the 2007 Labour Force Survey (LFS), which analyses in a special module absence from work due to workplace accident and occupational illness. However, an interview with a representative of the Pancyprian Federation of Labour (Παγκύπρια Εργατική Ομοσπονδία, PEO), conducted for the purposes of this questionnaire, revealed that the main reasons for absence from work are illness, workplace accidents, occupational illnesses and maternity. This can be seen through the expenditure of the Social Insurance Fund (Ταμείο Κοινωνικών Ασφαλίσεων), as shown in Table 2.

Table 2: Expenditure of Social Insurance Fund, by kind of benefit, 2007 (€)
Kind of benefit 2007 (€)
Unemployment benefit 54,300,000
Sickness benefit 29,800,000
Maternity allowance 16,889,000
Marriage grant 1,670,000
Maternity grant 2,635,000
Funeral grant 2,242,000
Old age pension 495,883,000
Widow’s pension 133,838,000
Orphan’s benefit 3,300,000
Missing person’s allowance 1,088,000
Injury benefit 2,080,000
Disability benefit 4,605,000
Death benefit 2,140,000
Total 750,470,000

Source: YKA, social insurance statistics

(b) Please indicate the main occupational diseases and occupational injuries or accidents responsible for absence from work. Please identify and offer explanations for any changes that have occurred over the past five years.

According to the MLSI annual report for 2007, the main types of occupational accidents are industrial (89%) rather than accidents occurring on the way to or from work. The main causes of accident are stated to be the work environment (buildings, premises), means of transport, machinery/equipment and materials/substances. During the 2002–2007 period, no substantial changes took place with regard to causes of accidents; however, over the last two years, there has been an increase in the number of accidents caused mainly by materials and substances. Most accidents reported to the Department of Labour Inspection in 2008 involved the sectors of construction (27.42%) and manufacturing (23.24%).

In relation to the main health problems either caused or exacerbated by work that are included in the special module of the 2007 LFS, they mostly involve bone, joint and muscle problems located mainly in the back or lower back (29.2%), the hips or lower extremities (15.2%), the neck, shoulders or upper extremities (14.6%), as well as respiratory complaints (9.4%) and heart disease (8.9%).

3. Presenteeism

Please refer to the definition of presenteeism: ‘being present at work while feeling ill or being unable to work at normal capacity’. What data are available on its extent?

For example, a Dutch study asked employees, ‘during the last 12 months, did it happen that you went to work, even when you thought you should report sick?’ Almost two thirds of respondents replied in the affirmative. Please report on any data available in surveys of working conditions, presenting the wording of the questions used.

In Cyprus, there are no data on presenteeism from official or other sources of information.

Costs and policies

4. Costs of absence

Are there estimates or studies on costs of absence from work? Please provide available information on:

a) Figures for costs of absence from work for employers. Please summarise how the data are collected, how costs are compiled (what is included in the costs and concrete data) and measured (e.g. costs of absence as a percentage of company production or as a percentage of GDP for the whole country).

There are no official data from CYSTAT, YKA or the Department of Labour Inspection on the costs of absence from work for employers in Cyprus. According to a representative of the Employers and Industrialists Federation (Ομοσπονδία Εργοδοτών και Βιομηχάνων, OEB), there are no aggregate data on absence from work from companies that would indicate the costs incurred from days lost due to absence.

b) Figures for costs of absence from work for the social security system. Please summarise how the data are collected, how costs are compiled (what is included in the costs and concrete data) and measured (e.g. costs of absence as percentage of social security expenditure).

The only available data on costs of absence from work for the social security system are included in the MLSI 2008 annual report, which refers to the outlays of the Social Insurance Fund for all of the benefits and grants that it provides. More specifically, the amount spent on sickness benefits in 2008 was €33,342,615; for employment injury benefits, the figure was €2,096,310. Between 2001 and 2008, according to data from the MLSI annual reports, the amount spent every year on sickness benefits has shown a steady upward trend; however, this is not regarded as a matter of concern when the increase in the employment rate is also taken into account. According to 2007 labour statistics from CYSTAT, sickness benefits constitute 3.7% of all YKA expenditure. Costs are calculated on the basis of the number of claims for payment of sickness benefits received by YKA and the amounts paid for each settled claim.

5. National and company measures

(a) Please outline any recent measures at national level intended to reduce the costs of absence through positive policies. An example would be changed social security rules on sick pay. Are any specific actions or measures directed at long-term absence?

In Cyprus, the subject of absence from work is not regarded as a cause for concern justifying measures to reduce levels of absence. On the contrary, in 2006, the House of Representatives unanimously passed an amendment to the Social Insurance Law 1980, improving benefits to self-employed people. Self-employed people were not previously entitled to receive sickness benefits for the first 18 days of the period of incapacity to work, unless such incapacity was due to an accident or unless – within four days from the inception of incapacity to work – the self-employed person entered a hospital or clinic for a period of at least six consecutive days. This amendment reduced the waiting period for self-employed people to receive benefits from 18 to nine days. It also reduced the minimum hospital stay from six days to at least one overnight stay at any time during their period of incapacity, and not only within the narrow limits of the first four days.

(b) What are companies doing to reduce overall absence from work (e.g. attendance incentives or bonuses)? Are sickness prevention plans elaborated? If so, how are elected employee representatives involved in these plans (e.g. through involvement in their design and implementation, or through being informed about them)? Please illustrate with up to three examples.

High levels of absence of work have not been observed in the private sector. Nevertheless, according to an OEB representative, some large companies implement practices in the form of incentives, such as awards, rewards and trips for employees with the fewest days of absence from work.

(c) Do companies have any specific policies directed at long-term absence? What is done to encourage the reintegration into work of people who are long-term sick? Is work redesigned to meet the needs of employees?

No specific policies are directed by companies at reducing long-term absence. According to the OEB representative, some large companies have agreements with gyms which offer their employees lower subscription rates as a measure to promote their health.

6. Well-being at work

(a) Is the concept of well-being at work a feature of debates in your country? Which are the most relevant initiatives in this area, for example in relation to redesigning work to encourage attendance or to promote the health of employees? What are the objectives of such initiatives? How far do they aim to reduce absence levels, and is there any evidence of any reductions? Please provide up to three examples.

The question of promoting employees’ health is a concern for the social partners in the context of health and safety. Specifically, absence from work is not regarded as a problem in Cyprus, and for that reason it does not require any immediate measures or policies. However, the concept of well-being at work is very important and is frequently discussed. This concept is also crucial as it is included in collective agreements. As already mentioned, absence from work is not a priority on the social partners’ agenda and at the moment there are no initiatives in this regard.

(b) To what extent do policies on the management of absence and on well-being engage elected employee representatives? At what stage are representatives involved?

Safety representatives are involved in matters of workplace safety and health, and by extension health promotion.

(c) Please summarise the policy position of social partners, and if relevant other representative bodies, on the management of absence, attendance and well-being at work.

According to the social partners, absence from work is not a topic of debate, since in Cyprus it is not viewed as a serious problem. There are no specific policies by any of the social partners or other bodies to reduce levels of absence. The policies of the trade union organisations aim to promote workers’ health by improving the collective agreements that safeguard workers’ right to be absent from work in the framework of the legislation. Employers have not proposed absence from work as a subject for debate, since they do not consider themselves as facing a specific problem and they are satisfied with the provisions of the law and collective agreements.

Commentary

Please provide an assessment of national debates about absence. What is the balance between controlling high levels of absence, on the one hand, and promoting health and a positive work environment, on the other?

In Cyprus, absence from work is not a subject for debate. It is regulated both by law and also through collective agreements. No systematic periods of absence have been observed to an extent that would justify measures or policies either nationally or at company level. An important obstacle to examining this matter in Cyprus is the fact that no data are available regarding the time lost or the costs of absence. One reason for this knowledge gap may be the lack of necessity. Policies of the state, the trade union organisations and the employer organisations are restricted to the framework of workers’ health and safety and the reduction of occupational accidents and illnesses. The issue of presenteeism has not been a subject of debate either, although a certain percentage of workers in Cyprus may be involved in such situations.

Polina Stavrou, Cyprus Labour Institute (INEK/PEO)

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