Ekot’s investigation looked back over the past 13 years. The average MP has served for six or more years.
Their questionnaire showed that no fewer than 35 MPs have been off sick and neglected to inform their employer – a clear violation of the rules. MPs are equally required to officially report when they are home sick.
One self-confessing offender, Social Democrat Sinnika Bohlin, defended herself claiming that she wasn’t aware of the rules which she, as a parliamentarian, has enacted.
Bohlin spent several days in hospital for knee surgery and never reported her absence from work.
She told Ekot, “I regret that I overlooked [reporting my sick leave] when I had my knee operation. If it is in some way possible to return the money, if it can be called cheating, then I am more than willing to do so. But I have totally misunderstood, in that case.”
Peter Eriksson, spokesman for the Green Party is another who failed to report one single sick day during his six years in parliament.
Amusingly he was, according to Ekot, ‘too ill’ to answer questions regarding per diem benefits when they called him last week. But he never reported himself on sick leave and claimed he ended up working from home that day after feeling better.
And with the news that sick leave pay outs by the government have fallen in the last 18 months, could it be that the rest of the population is also feeling better? Alas, no.
Monday’s Dagens Nyheter reported that the reason for the reduced state payout is that since July 2003 the employer is required to pay the first three weeks of sick leave instead of two. Also, there are a greater number of people taking early retirement.
In fact, the overall level of sick leave benefits awarded increased.
To fight against rising sick leave costs, employees in Jönköping’s Försäkringskassan, the benefits agency, are being offered bonuses of 500 crowns as financial incentives for tougher assessments of sick claims.
“The staff has done a fantastic job this year by working harder and more efficiently” the organisation’s chairman, Arnold Carlzon, told Swedish Radio. “There have been decreased figures of absenteeism both at our offices and throughout the region. I think that’s worth a bonus.”
According to Swedish Radio, the fact that more people are declined sick leave compensation while his employees receive bonuses doesn’t disturb Carlzon.
“There is no reason to draw a correlation between the two events,” said Carlzon. “Even if you did so, we have been ordered by parliament to reduce the level of sick leave by half.”
And the unions aren’t happy about that. The ombudsman for LO’s Metall Union complained about the tighter measures to Tuesday’s Svenska Dagbladet and said that the union’s statistics demonstrate that denied claims despite doctor’s notes have become more common.
“The increase is remarkable this year. Completely absurd circumstances are being created since different state authorities blame each other,” said Claes Jansson at Metall.
Lawyers for the unions are fearful that this is only the beginning. “The number of denied claims have increased while we believe that there are greater numbers who have not yet come forward,” said Katri Linna, the chief lawyer of white collar union SIF.
Peggy Bernin, a district doctor in north west Stockholm is also alarmed. She told SvD, “Patients denied benefits turn to relatives or social services for help. To be in such a situation doesn’t make them healthier.”
Perhaps they should consider a career move – into politics.