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4102.0 - Australian Social Trends, 1996  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 24/06/1996   
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Contents >> Work >> Paid Work: Sick leave

Employment arrangements: Sick leave

In 1995, 10% of employees took sick leave for their most recent absence from work in the two-week reference period.

Under the Australian industrial awards system most employees have the right to paid leave for sickness as well as for a range of other reasons. However, unplanned absence from work on sick leave can be costly to employers through lost production, additional wages for replacement staff or overtime wages for current staff. Similarly, absence from work on sick leave may be costly to employees in terms of loss of income and productivity.

Sick leave rates are influenced by leave provisions which in turn differ according to employee working arrangements. For example, casual employees are not entitled to paid sick leave and people employed part-time generally have fewer provisions for sick leave than those employed full-time. The taking of sick leave also varies with factors such as sector of employment, occupation, sex, age and family status, especially in those families with dependants.

In 1995, 10% of all employees (652,000 people) took sick leave for their most recent absence from work in the two-week reference period. This proportion was similar in 1993 (9%). In both years, just over 60% were away from work for one whole day or less and less than 2% were away for 10-14 whole days. In 1995, 7% of employees who took sick leave stated that their main reason for doing so was something other than attending a medical or dental appointment, or their own ill health, physical disability, or pregnancy. The most common other reasons were caring for a sick or disabled child (2.3%) and caring for another sick, disabled or aged person (1.3%).

11% of permanent employees, whether full-time or part-time, took sick leave compared to 7% of casual full-timers and 4% of casual part-timers. These differences are mainly due to the absence of paid sick leave provisions for casual employees.

PROPORTION OF EMPLOYEES WHO TOOK SICK LEAVE, 1995


Source: Working Arrangements, Australia (cat. no. 6342.0.40.001).


Sick leave

Sick leave is an absence from work during normal working hours lasting over three hours and taken under sick leave provisions. Data in this review are from the Survey of Working Arrangements and only include the most recent absence during the two-week reference period in August 1995. Seasonal variations in absence rates therefore may not be reflected in these data.

Data in this review relate to employees, i.e people aged 15 and over who worked for an employer for wages or salary or in their own business (either with or without employees) if that business was a limited liability company, in their main job, i.e in the job in which most hours were usually worked. People still attending school are excluded.

The sick leave rate is the number of employees in a particular sub-group who took sick leave, divided by the total number of employees in the sub-group. Working arrangements (i.e permanent full-time, permanent part-time, casual full-time and casual part-time) affect sick leave entitlements and hence sick leave rates. Because of this standardised sick leave rates, which are the sick leave rates which would occur in different sub-groups of the employee population if they had the same working arrangements composition as the total employee population, are also presented.


Sex and age
Overall, men had a sick leave rate of 9% and women of 10%. However, male and female employment patterns are quite different. In 1995, 81% of male employees were permanent full-time compared to 54% of female employees.

After standardising for working arrangements the male sick leave rate remained at 9% while the female rate increased to 11%, suggesting that women are more likely than men to take time off work for illness. The highest standardised sick leave rate (14%) was recorded for women aged 15-24. Men in this age group also had a high standardised rate (11%). This is consistent with the general finding that young workers have higher rates of workplace absence than older workers1.

The difference between the male and female standardised sick leave rates is more than twice as high for those aged 15-44 as for those aged 45 and over. It is likely that child-bearing contributes to the higher rates for younger women.

EMPLOYEES WHO TOOK SICK LEAVE, 1995

Sick leave rate
Standardised sick leave rate


Men
Women
Persons
Men
Women
Persons
Age
%
%
%
%
%
%

15-24
10.6
12.4
11.5
11.0
13.7
12.2
25-34
10.5
11.4
10.9
9.1
11.8
10.7
35-44
9.1
9.9
9.5
8.4
11.0
9.3
45-54
7.5
8.1
7.7
6.8
8.1
7.5
55-64
8.0
7.0
7.6
7.9
8.6
7.8
Total(a)
9.3
10.3
9.7
8.9
11.1
9.7

(a) Includes employees aged 65 and over.

Source: Survey of Working Arrangements (unpublished data)


Sector of employment
In 1995, the sick leave rate for private sector employees was 9% compared to 12% for public sector employees. After standardising for working arrangements the sick leave rates for both sectors changed marginally and the difference reduced slightly. The difference between the standardised rates reflects the generally greater sick leave provisions of the public sector and the greater job security. In August 1994, almost 100% of full-time and 98% of part-time permanent public sector employees had paid sick leave provisions compared to 98% and 93% respectively in the private sector2.

Occupation
Sick leave rates vary by occupation, ranging from 6% for managers and administrators to 11% for para-professionals, professionals and clerks. When standardised to remove the effects of different working arrangements the lowest rate (5%) was again recorded for managers and administrators and the highest rate (11%) for para-professionals and clerks. These differences may reflect the generally greater commitment to work expected of managers and administrators.

The largest differences between the standardised sick leave rates of men and women were among professionals (12% for women and 8% for men) and managers and administrators (7% for women and 4% for men).

SECTOR AND OCCUPATION OF EMPLOYEES WHO TOOK SICK LEAVE, 1995

Sick leave rate
Standardised sick leave rate


Men
Women
Persons
Men
Women
Persons
Sector and occupation
%
%
%
%
%
%

Sector of employment
    Public
11.5
13.4
12.4
10.7
13.1
11.5
    Private
8.6
9.2
8.9
8.3
10.1
9.0
Occupation
    Managers and administrators
5.2
7.5
5.7
4.1
7.3
5.1
    Professionals
9.4
12.9
11.0
8.2
12.5
10.2
    Para-professionals
11.4
11.6
11.5
11.1
11.3
10.9
    Tradespersons
10.4
8.0
10.1
8.5
8.3
9.2
    Clerks
9.9
11.1
10.9
10.0
11.4
10.7
    Salespersons and personal service workers
8.3
8.4
8.4
8.9
9.4
9.2
    Plant and machine operators, and drivers
8.9
11.3
9.2
8.6
11.4
8.7
    Labourers and related workers
10.0
9.0
9.6
10.1
11.1
10.2
Total
9.3
10.3
9.7
8.9
11.1
9.7

Source: Survey of Working Arrangements (unpublished data)


Family status
Lone parents with children under 15 had the highest sick leave rate (12%) followed by people living with non-family members and non-dependant children living with their parents (both 11%). The lowest sick leave rate (9%) was for lone parents with no children under 15. After standardising for working arrangements the sick leave rate for lone parents with children under 15 increased to 14% while the sick leave rates for all other groups hardly changed. This implies that lone parents with children under 15 are far more likely than other people to take sick leave. The five percentage point difference between the standardised sick leave rates for lone parents with and without children under 15, suggests that as their children grow up lone parents become less likely than other people to take sick leave.

The sick leave rates for parents of children under 15 were the same for mothers and fathers in two parent families. However, when standardised for working arrangements, the rate for mothers was higher than the rate for fathers suggesting that mothers are more likely to take sick leave than fathers. Similarly, lone mothers of children under 15 were more likely than lone fathers to take sick leave but when the children were older, lone fathers were slightly more likely than lone mothers to take sick leave. This was the only group where the standardised sick leave rate for men was higher than the rate for women.

FAMILY STATUS OF EMPLOYEES WHO TOOK SICK LEAVE, 1995

Sick leave rates
Standardised sick leave rates


Men
Women
Persons
Men
Women
Persons
Family status
%
%
%
%
%
%

Family member(a)
9.2
10.0
9.6
8.7
11.0
9.6
    Husband or wife
9.0
9.8
9.4
8.1
10.7
9.2
      With children under 15
9.5
9.5
9.5
8.1
11.4
9.5
      Without children under 15
8.3
10.1
9.2
7.8
10.3
9.0
    Lone parent
9.3*
10.9
10.6
8.7*
12.3
11.5
      With children under 15
10.1*
12.2
11.9
9.1*
14.9
13.9
      Without children under 15
8.5*
8.8
8.8
10.3*
9.4
8.9
    Non-dependant child
10.4
12.1
11.0
10.2
12.0
10.9
Non-family member
10.0
11.4
10.6
9.8
11.6
10.5
Lives alone
9.4
10.7
9.9
8.7
10.5
9.4
Lives with others
10.5
12.1
11.2
10.6
12.3
11.3
Total(b)
9.3
10.3
9.7
8.9
11.1
9.7

(a) Includes other family members.
(b) Includes those for whom family status could not be determined.

Source: Survey of Working Arrangements (unpublished data)


Family responsibilities
In recent decades more employees have chosen to combine employment and family responsibilities. Family responsibilities, such as caring for sick children, may contribute to workplace absence if an employed parent cannot make alternative care arrangements. Until recently this responsibility has been mainly associated with women because they have traditionally had the main responsibility for family care3.

The 1993 Child Care Survey collected data on the child care arrangements made by parents when their children aged 0-11 were sick. Of the 703,000 couple families with children under 12 where both parents were employed, 410,000 had sick children in the six months to June 1993. 36% of the mothers and 16% of the fathers took time off work to care for their children. 29% of the mothers who took time off work and 26% of the fathers used their own sick leave. If fathers took time off they were most likely to use sick leave while mothers were most likely to use unpaid leave (34%).

In the 147,000 families with sick children where both parents were employed full-time, 46% of the mothers and 23% of the fathers took time off work to care for the children. 38% of the mothers who took time off and 25% of the fathers used their own sick leave. In both cases sick leave was the most commonly used leave option.

In 61% of families with sick children the father was employed full-time and the mother part-time. In such families 31% of the mothers and 12% of the fathers took time off work to care for the children. 22% of the mothers who took time off and 29% of the fathers used sick leave.

Of employed lone parents, 63,000 had sick children in the reference period. Of the 46% who took time off work, 28% used sick leave to care for sick children.

USE OF SICK LEAVE BY EMPLOYED COUPLES WHO TOOK TIME OFF WORK TO CARE FOR SICK CHILDREN, 1993


Source: Focus on Families: Work and Family Responsibilities (cat. no. 4422.0).


Endnotes
1 Balchin, J. and Wooden, M. (1992) Absence penalties and the work attendance decision National Institute of Labour Studies Inc. Working Paper No. 120.
2 Survey of Employment Benefits, Australia (unpublished data).

3 VandenHeuval, A. (1995) Absence due to family responsibilities: an examination of explanatory factors National Institute of Labour Studies Inc. Working Paper No. 135.


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