An interesting confluence of news streams caught my eye recently concerning people in both the UK and Poland “throwing a sickie”.
The nation throws a sickie!
I first read an article in the Spectator (do I ever read anything else?) that was concerning itself with the UK’s swine flu hysteria and the number of people taking advantage of recommendations to stay at home. The statistics are not especially worrying, around 30 people have died from swine flu complications in the UK so far versus the 12,000 per annum that die from ‘normal’ flu. Nevertheless, by engaging in a typical knee-jerk overreaction that places swine flu as the nations most horrid threat the authorities are playing right into the hands of those who don’t need too much of an excuse to stay at home and improve their Xbox 360 FIFA 09 skills.
Shortly after, I’m reading the Polskie Radio news and find an article about how the Polish government is going to ‘crackdown’ on sick-leave in Poland and the number of L4s being handed out to slackers by dodgy quacks.
A regulation giving inspectors from the Social Insurance Company to start monitoring people who are on sick leave and general practitioners who write out sick leave form goes into effect Monday. In this manner, the Social Insurance Company (ZUS) wants to reduce the number of ‘sick benefits’ granted to healthy people. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, more and more people have taken sick leaves in fear of being made redundant.
I didn’t really understand that last part but it makes sense when you realise that while on sick leave you get 80% of your salary whereas unemployment benefit is only 575 PLN per month. I think there’s a limit to the amount of time you can get the 80% though I’m not sure what it is. Probably long enough for the recession to end!
A staggering statistic is that in the first 6 months of 2009, the amount spent on health benefits is 3.2 billion zloty, which is 43.7% higher than the same period last year!! ZUS’s budget is under serious pressure, partly from increased number of payments to those on sick-leave and partly by lower income from the increased number of unemployed people.
In the north-eastern city of Bialystok itself, 121,000 people went on a sick leave this year, in comparison with 74,000 last year. For ZUS, it is not a secret why the number of people on sick leaves has grown so dramatically. In May the Railway Rolling Stock Repair Company decided to make half of its 750 workers redundant, so many of them took a sick leave. Similar situation happened when, in June, Polish National Railways PKP Cargo made redundant 165 of its workers.
So there you have it, a rather unusual similarity of news from the UK and from Poland. Two nations suffering from mass workplace abandonment – the UK because of swine flu, Poland because it’s a handy way to avoid being made redundant (or to increase your unemployment benefits). I suspect though that both cases share a similar root cause, that of the recession-induced malaise.
Were I to speculate on any cultural differences here I’d say the UK is more of a lazy “I can’t be bothered” attitude whereas in Poland I think there is a tendency, for a minority perhaps, to use sick leave in a far more calculated manner. Possibly encouraged by the way Polish doctors appear keen to force you to stay at home for goodly periods of time even with relatively minor ailments. It is, I think, generally easier to get a sicknote (L4) in Poland than it is in the UK.