Health and Safety Executive finds the private sector has as much sick leave as the public sector

The view that public sector workers take more sick leave than their private sector counterparts is misleading, according to a report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

The report defends attacks on high levels of public sector sickness absence by suggesting there is evidence of under-recording of absence within the private sector, rather than those employees taking fewer days off sick.

The annual CBI/AXA sickness absence figures, published earlier this year, put public sector absence at 30% higher than the private sector.

But the HSE’s Survey on Workplace Absence, Sickness and Health 2005 indicates that differences in public and private sector sickness absence rates are small, at just 0.3 days per employee, when taking into account the size of an organisation, differences in age and gender profiles.

The research, based on 10,000 interviews with employees, shows that levels of absence are higher in organisations with more than 250 staff. This is why public sector absence is higher than private sector, as almost all public sector organisations employ more than 250 employees, the report said.

Other findings from the HSE report are:

  • On average, women have more sickness absence than men and the public sector employs a higher proportion of female workers

  • Older employees take more sick days in total than their younger counterparts. The age profile of the public sector is older than the private sector

  • Stress was reported more widely among public than private sector respondents. More public sector workers work face-to-face with the public than their private sector counterparts.

There also appear to be notable differences in sick pay arrangements between the private and public sectors, with about a fifth of private sector respondents reporting that they received no pay for the first three days of continuous absence.

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