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Australian employers concerned that workers will take a sickie on Friday for a long weekend

The number of people expected to call in sick after Australia Day for a four-day weekend is enough to cost the country’s economy US$41 million

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:52am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 24 January, 2017, 11:55am

By Michael Gorey

More Australians than usual are expected to be ill on Friday after celebrating Australia Day, prompting employer groups to plead that workers take annual leave instead of a sickie, while unions say there are bigger issues to worry about.

Paul Dundon, the managing director of Direct Health Solutions, estimates A$54 million (US$41 million) will be lost from the Australian economy on Friday.

“Sick leave will rise from an average of 3.5 per cent of workers each day to five per cent when there is an opportunity to extend the Australia Day break to a long weekend,” Mr Dundon said.

“This increase represents a jump in sick leave of 42 per cent compared to the average.

“Each [lost] day costs an average A$360 (US$273) to employers. This means A$54 million (US$41 million) for the day.

“On top of this, to cover sick leave, employers will have to keep workers on overtime to cover critical work, and employers will need to balance their service levels with potential staff shortages.”

The Direct Health Solutions 2016 absence management survey shows that Australian Capital Territory, or ACT workers took the most sickies in Australia, with 12.9 days compared with the national average of 9.5.

“That’s largely driven by the high degree of public sector workers,” the report says.

The Australia Day holiday has been observed across the nation on January 26 since 1994.

Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson said workers should “do the right thing” and take annual leave if they want Friday off.

“Misusing sick leave erodes trust in the workplace, puts extra strain on colleagues doing the right thing and leaves people short of sick leave when they genuinely need it,” he said.

“If someone is unexpectedly absent their manager or colleagues will generally need to pick up the extra workload.

“This isn’t fair - it places a burden on people who are busy doing their own job, and reduces services and extends waiting times for customers and clients.

“Workplaces operate best where there is a high level of trust between managers and staff, but misusing personal leave undermines this trust.”

Mr Pearson warned that many employers would require staff taking sick leave to provide a medical certificate.

UnionsACT secretary Alex White said a bigger issue was that casual employees don’t have any leave entitlements.

“A far greater concern [than a Friday sickie] for the Canberra community is the handful of disreputable employers who avoid their obligations by under paying their staff,” Mr White said.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman in 2015 found 114 of audited restaurants and cafes underpaid their staff or breached a workplace law, and a 2016 audit found 43 percent were not compliant.

“This unlawful behaviour not only exploits working people, many of whom are young or on temporary work visas, but also unfairly undermines the many small businesses who do the right thing.”

Mr White said it was contradictory that business organisations complained about people taking a long weekend, “yet they are the same groups pressuring the Federal government to cut wages, undermine penalty rates, and oppose family-friendly conditions like paid parental leave”.

Industry group the Tourism and Transport Forum says Australians should use their accrued annual leave to create a long weekend for Australia Day, Anzac Day or the Melbourne Cup.

“Three per cent of workers have 10 weeks or more of annual leave locked away and 17 per cent don’t know how the current balance of their annual leave,” chief executive Margy Osmond said.

“Using the 134 million days of stored annual leave is a win-win for everybody.

“Employees get a chance to take a break and recharge their batteries and employers can reduce the liability of unused leave on their books, with the added benefit of re-energised workers.

“You should use your annual leave - don’t try to pull a sickie.”

Employers concerned that workers will take a sickie on Friday