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Whinging Aussies? It’s Time to Toughen Up!

Editors Note: This is a guest post written by Edward Mallett, Managing Director of Employsure. His opinions are his own.

As an Englishman living in Australia, I am used to being called a whinging Pom.

I won’t pretend that I am not prone to the occasional moan, like a lot of my countrymen, but some information has led me to question whether we are being unfairly stereotyped and, in fact, it is more a case of “whingeing Aussies”.

A recent survey shows that the average Australian takes over 9 days sick leave a year. The figure rises even higher depending on the type of workplace and where it is. Civil servants take over 10 days per year on average and unionised workforces take more than 20% more sick leave than in non-unionised workplaces.

By state, Queensland trumps the lot, with an average employee taking as many as 11 days of sick leave a year. These figures are remarkable really. Taking into account statutory leave entitlements, it means that an average Australian worker has a sick day every month.

But Aussies are made of tough stuff, I hear you say, perhaps they just get sick a lot. Unfortunately, the figures don’t support this. Toyota Australia reports that as many as 30% of staff take the day off on a Friday where it follows a Thursday public holiday, as with the day after Australia Day earlier this year. The spike in sick leave the day before Melbourne Cup day tells the same story.

Australians are, you might be surprised to hear, prone to pulling sickies. The chorus defending Australian workers tries to point out that non-genuine sick days are in fact limited, though they struggle to explain the mysterious bug that hits Australians at certain times of year or why you get sicker if you are a member of a union or a civil servant.

The other defence is that management is to blame for high levels of sick leave, rather than the workers. The theory being that happy workers do not take sickies. But, that would mean that the average Australian workplace is an unhappy one, which seems like a broad brush to apply.

The problem is further highlighted when you look overseas. In the UK last year, the average number of days off through illness was under 4.5, less than half that of Australia. Given that there is no real difference in the standard of health between the UK and Australia, the only logical explanation seems to be cultural. Aussies are more inclined to pull a sickie than the Poms.

Before labelling the Australian working population as a bunch of whingers who need to “toughen up”, it is worth looking to see whether there is any other background reason for the level of absenteeism. Curiously, the amount of sick leave taken fits almost precisely with the amount of paid leave that the legislation provides.

Under the Fair Work Act 2009, 10 days paid personal leave is permitted, against the 9.4 days taken. Coincidence? Unlikely. UK legislation is far less generous, which may well explain why people are less inclined to take time off.

So, it seems the government is to blame. The working Aussie is not a whinger, just sensible enough to take up what the government gives them.

Edward Mallett is a specialist employment law barrister, and Managing Director of Employsure. Employsure is a total risk management solution for employers, protecting them against workplace relations issues such as unfair dismissal, discrimination, breach of contract and harassment in the workplace – all for a fixed annual fee. Follow them on twitter.

Edward Mallett

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