Sick leave level drops sharply

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Norwegians seem to be feeling better, causing a sharp drop in sick leave. The sick leave rate hasn’t been lower in nine years and that makes Labour Minister Hanne Bjurstrøm smile, but she still has a long way to go, to meet government goals.

Labour Minister Hanne Bjurstrøm called the lower sick leave figures "inspiring and positive," but a better cure is still needed. PHOTO: Arbeidsdepartementet

The sick leave rate fell to 7 percent during the first quarter of 2010, down from 7.7 percent during the same period of last year. Compared to 2001, the sick leave rate has dropped by 7.9 per cent, state statistics bureau SSB reported.

Norway’s government has been on a campaign to lower sick leave within Norway’s labour force, aiming to reduce the staggering costs it causes for both employers and the state. In Norway, employees receive full pay from the first day of illness, with employers covering the cost of the first 16 days and the state picking up the tab after that, up to a maximum amount currently equivalent to NOK 437,000 (USD 75,000) in annual pay.

Labor minister Hanne Bjurstrøm called the new figures “inspiring and positive,” and suggested that the political focus itself has contributed to improvements. SSB analysts had other explanations, though, pointing out that Norway has had no seasonal flu this year. Furthermore, the financial crisis has encouraged many young members of the workforce to head back to schools and universities. More use of incremental sick leave, allowing workers with illness or injury to work reduced hours, adds to the improved situation.

Bjurstrøm admits the current levels are still high, with “lots of work” remaining to reach the goal of a 20 percent reduction in overall sick leave compared to 2001. That goal is set to be reached by 2013, according to a broad agreement reached earlier this year between employers, unions and the government.

“We are still far from that goal,” Bjurstrøm told news bureau NTB. “But the direction is right, and that’s what’s important right now.”

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