Project Scotland

Union in warning over working while ill

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Construction union UCATT says the absence of sick pay for some workers can endanger not only their own lives but also the safety of their co-workers, as workers carry on working while ill in order not to lose out on wages.

New research carried out by the University of East Anglia’s (UEA) Norwich Business School shows that presenteesim (the act of going to work when ill) is linked to errors and low performance in the workplace. Working while ill then exacerbates the illness, affecting general wellbeing – and in a knock-on effect, escalates the levels of poor performance to an even greater extent.

Brian Rye, acting general secretary of UCATT, said, “In a construction context, this research points to a significant failing in construction industry practice where some workers carry on working while ill in order not to lose out on wages. No one should work when they are ill – or feel they are forced to do so. Not only is it proven to be counterproductive, but within industries like construction, it could be life threatening for both the individual and his or her colleagues.”

Lead researcher from UEA, Dr Mariella Miraglia, said limited paid sick leave was a huge factor in presenteeism. “The possible negative consequences of being absent can prompt employees to show up ill or to return to work when not totally recovered. Organisations may want to carefully review attendance policies for features which could decrease absence at the cost of increased presenteeism.”

The research looked at 175, 000 case studies, across 34 countries. Mr Rye added, “The research shows that people who are happy at work, have supportive colleagues and good relationships with managers, feel they do not have to work when ill – and are thus both more satisfied with their jobs and healthier. It’s common sense. And we urge those in the construction industry to take heed.”

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