Labour officials today revealed that an increasing number of Barbadian workers were absenting themselves from work because of their birthdays; because they had to care for their children or the elderly or due to mental illness.
Labour laws in Barbados provide for six uncertified sick days from work, up to 12 consecutive months of certified sick leave, and up to 12 months within a 24-month period of certified sick leave.
During a panel discussion at the Barbados Employers’ Confederation (BEC) on the theme A Business Approach to Managing Absenteeism, officials complained that absenteeism in the workplace continued to impact negatively on productivity and companies’ bottom line.
Attorney-at-law Cicely Chase, QC, said absenteeism was “a very worrying trend” in Barbados and other Caribbean countries.
“What you have is employees who believe that their birthday is so precious and so important to them that it will override a contract of employment,” Chase said, adding that this practice was quickly becoming “a culture” in Barbados.
“What about the Crop Over weekend? That is upon us, so we must look at the Crop Over weekend . . . This is a challenge that a lot of employers are facing in Barbados,” she added.
Encouraging employers not to treat absenteeism casually, Chase said sick certificates had become “less descriptive and less explanatory”, as she accused some doctors of being “very liberal in giving employees sick leave”.
Stating that mental health issues were very sensitive, Chase told the packed room of employers from several industries that they should seek advice before taking any action against individuals who were being absent due to those issues.
“Unfortunately, employees know all the loopholes better than we do, and one of the things that is becoming very common is the fact that people have to go to take care of their child or go to take care of somebody [or] they have a family emergency. That is becoming more prevalent,” she added, while stating that special provision could be made on a case-by-case basis.
Yet to be published results from the Productivity Council’s macro-productivity indicators project showed that the national absenteeism rate in Barbados dropped by almost half to reach 8.6 per cent in 2016, compared to the 16.1 per cent the previous year.
At the same time national productivity increased to 4.2 per cent in 2016, up from 2.7 per cent the prior year.
The measurement is carried out in seven sectors – accommodation, agriculture, construction, financial services, wholesale and retail, manufacturing, transportation, and communication.
Productivity Officer with the Productivity Council Janelle Arthur said the “worse cases of absenteeism tend to come from the accommodation sector” with the trend also emerging in the financial services sector.
Arthur said there were instances of decreases in both absenteeism and productivity, “which leads us to believe that there are obviously other things driving labour productivity” other than being absent.
“There is some volatility with absenteeism in Barbados at the moment. There are some tremendous highs and some tremendous lows that we have experienced. Today we can say there really is no ideal state of absenteeism,” she said.
The Productivity Council defines absenteeism as the failure of an employee to report to work or to remain at work as scheduled regardless of reason.
Arthur complained that too many employers were unaware of the number of days employees were off sick because they simply did not keep records.
At the same time she said too many workers were taking time off during work hours for personal business which they were unable to do online or outside of their work hours.
BEC Labour Management Advisor Kara Sealy said while absenteeism could be as a result of sickness, low levels of satisfaction and burnout of employees, workers were also taking time away from work due to bullying and harassment in the workplace.
“It is unfortunate that bullying is now increasing in Barbados within workplaces. That can also lead to absenteeism. Harassment can lead to absenteeism where persons are avoiding the situation so they are not coming in. We need to engage our people,” Sealy said, while cautioning it could get out of control.
The officials recommended a number of solutions, including the implementation of health programmes, addressing environmental issues, implementing and enforcing attendance policies, identifying causes for absenteeism, providing support where necessary, and rewarding employees for consistent attendance.