Over a three year period, as many as 53,000 sickness claims and 7,000 employment injury claims were received by the National Insurance Office.
Officer at the NIS, Kevin Harris, made this startling disclosure last night while speaking on the topic “Sick Leave — The Employers Plight vs The Employees Right” at the LLoyd Erskine Sandiford Centre, Two Mile Hill, St. Michael.
He told the gathering that sickness benefit was introduced by government to reduce the effect of hardship during loss of income, while the Employment Injury Benefit was established to reduce the hardship that can be caused by injury on the job, but warned that every injury claim is investigated thoroughly.
Harris however pointed out that permanent employees in the Government service do not contribute to the sickness benefit.
Acting Assistant General Secretary of the National Union of Public Workers, Delcia Burke, pointed out that appointed civil servants qualify for 21 sick days annually, but explained that temporary employees had to earn their 14 sick leave days.
She however dismissed the “wide-spread notion” that large numbers of the Government employees absent themselves from work without valid reason. The trade unionist charged that many civil servants were forced to work in sick buildings and noted that the recently constructed Frank Walcott Building was presented health challenges to workers employed there.
“Government constructs a beautiful building and then refuses to refurbish it. They refuse to even clean the building properly. As a result several occupants of the building suffer from respiratory tract problems. In addition, many civil servants suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” Burke said.
She noted that to many Government offices were not outfitted with the correct furniture to properly accommodate new technology, again presenting problems for employees.
Burke explained that in many offices workers were asked to sit on chairs and tables designed for use in a kitchen, and argued that inadequate furnishing led to such ailments as chronic back problems and carpel tunnel syndrome.
Burke suggested that “flexi-time” should be introduced because in many cases workers spend an inordinate amount of time accessing services at other Government offices or even at financial institutions. She noted that under these circumstances some workers opted to take one of their sick days to transact their business.
Additionally, the acting NUPW boss suggested that an institution like the Queen Elizabeth Hospital should have a day and night care facility to cater to the needs of the over 2,000 workers employed there. She said some employees preferred to work the night shift therefore nurses with young children should have access to such a facility.
Meanwhile, Executive Vice-President of Sagicor, Marguarite Estwick, charged that Barbados had the highest level of absenteeism from work in the Caribbean and noted that the average worker in Barbados spends an average of 3.3 months away from work.
Estwick maintained that in these harsh economic times businesses simply could not afford the financial loss, and told her audience that after years of research, she has noticed a trend in the behaviour of some workers.
“I have noticed that every year some workers stay at home on their birthday. Some take leave to attend the Jazz Festival in St. Lucia, while others take three weeks home to listen to cricket. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are lost every year because of absenteeism.
“When someone stays home the employer has to bring in someone to perform the work of the absent worker and this could affect the work ethic of the conscientious worker. The high incidence of absenteeism will not attract new business to our shores,” Estwick explained.†(NC)†