Official: Ecosoc is the sick man of Europe

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.30, 26.7.01, p3
Publication Date 26/07/2001
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Date: 26/07/01

By John Shelley

LATEST figures detailing how often EU officials are absent from work due to illness reveal widespread differences among the institutions.

They show that the Economic and Social Committee - the forum for trade unions, employers and special interest groups - tops the league with an average of almost 21 days lost per person (5.9%) owing to sickness each year.

In second place is the European Parliament (14.1 days or 4%), closely followed by the European Court of Justice (14 days - 3.9%), the European Commission (13 days - 3.7%) and the Court of Auditors (12 days - 3.4%).

Best performer is the much-maligned Committee of the Regions, which lost 11.6 days per person (3.3%) due to illness in 2000. The Council of Ministers has yet to submit its figures.

The statistics were compiled by the European Commission after MEPs said they would refuse to release around €3.5 million to pay for sickness cover unless they were given details on how many officials were taking such leave.

Dominique Bareth, head of unit in Ecosoc's financial and human resources directorate, denied there was a higher rate of sick leave in his institution due to 'skiving' by unscrupulous staff.

He said the institution's work force, which has an average age of 46, suffered more days lost due to illness because its staff were generally older than those working in other institutions. "It's obvious that when you get older you have more chance of getting sick," he said. The average age of a Commission official is 44.

As well as differences between the overall amount of sickness, the figures also reveal that the types and length of illness vary greatly among the institutions. In the Commission, 500 officials have been ill for more than three months - accounting for only 5% of days lost.

But long-term sickness is more of a problem in other institutions: in the Parliament officials who have been sick for three months or more account for 36% of the 51,981 days lost last year. In the case of Ecosoc, the comparable figure is 59%.

The rules on checking on sick leave are due to be reviewed as part of Commission vice-president Neil Kinnock's proposed reform of staff regulations. His spokesman denied that 'fake illness' was a major problem in the institutions but admitted the rules did need "modernising".

But some insiders say the rules make it easy for lazy officials, with the help of a complicit doctor, to take long periods off - and difficult for their superiors to do anything about it.

One EU official said: "The staff regulations have been made for people who are honest; when you are not honest you can abuse them quite easily."

Latest figures detailing how often EU officials are absent from work due to illness reveal widespread differences among the institutions.

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