RAMPANT sick leave is costing Bahrain's economy an estimated BD2 billion a year, a leading medical officer revealed yesterday.
A total of 105,000 days were lost through absenteeism last year among seven of the country's biggest private sector employers, said Gulf Petrochemical Industries chief medical officer Dr Mohammed Saleh Abdullatif.
He said the latest figures from Bahrain's 22 health centres showed a total of 470,000 workdays were lost in 2007 across all sectors.
"It is very expensive for someone to be absent from work," Dr Abdullatif told the GDN.
"It is not only the absence of the worker - it is getting a replacement for them as well.
"For our company, it (sick leave) is about BD3,500 a month."
Dr Abdullatif said the main culprits for faking sickness were workers who were given jobs by someone influential within a company and therefore felt they were untouchable.
He was speaking on the sidelines of a Bahrain Occupational Health Association (BOHA) seminar on the management of sickness absence, held at the Gulf Hotel.
More than 200 people attended the one-day event, held under patronage of Health Minister Dr Faisal Al Hamer.
The GDN revealed last month that 178,000 absent days were recorded by the Civil Service Bureau last year, at a cost of BD4.5m, with civil servants taking off the equivalent of five years' sick leave a month.
Dr Abdullatif said the law prohibiting companies from not accepting a certificate provided by a government medical centre should be scrapped.
"Company doctors should have the right to reject sick certificate if they feel the case is not genuine," he said.
"Most of the major companies already have medical centres and this law was laid down when there were none."
Dr Abdullatif said it was also important for doctors to refuse sick certificate to anyone not genuinely ill - whatever the pressure.
"Some workers come in and demand sick leave," he said.
"I have heard of some health centre doctors being attacked because they refused to give sick certificate.
"Ethically, as a doctor, I should not give sick certificate to a person that does not deserve it."
Dr Abdullatif, who is also the BOHA secretary, said that whether a workers' sick leave was fake or genuine, there was always a reason for their absence.
This mainly included stress from long hours and excessive pressure from their boss, domestic and personal commitments, drug and alcohol abuse and a lack of vocational training.
Dr Abdullatif said every company should strictly monitor the level of sick leave taken by its employees and have regular meetings with those who are absent.
Incentives, awards and cash prizes should also be given to staff who do not take time off.
However, Dr Al Hamer said the problem of rising levels of absenteeism was not confined to Bahrain.
"In Britain and the US, it is a big problem and costs the American economy $200bn (BD75.6bn) a year.
"We have not reached that level yet, but we are trying to address it now.
However, despite sickness rates in Bahrain, Dr Al Hamer does not believe the Health Ministry is a major contributor to the problem.
"Productivity at the Health Ministry is high," he said.
"People are committed and acting professionally throughout the sector, from physicians to allied health professionals and others."