“Extraordinary measures” to get long term sick into work

The director general of the National Social Insurance Board has proposed creating a special, transitional job market as an "extraordinary measure" to help the long term sick back into work. Curt Malmborg told a seminar that jobs in the health and care sectors and in schools could be one answer to Sweden's high levels of sick leave.

Social insurance offices (Försäkringskassan) have been hardening their attitudes towards people on sick leave since the new year. This has been in response to stiff government targets. They want the number of sick days to be halved from 92 million to 46 million by 2008.

Employers are being asked to adapt the work place or find alternative tasks for employees on long term sick leave. If this is not possible and the employee has the ability to at least do some work available on the market, they are asked to resign their job and apply for alternative work. If they refuse, their sick pay will be terminated.

“Sick pay isn’t income support or unemployment benefit, it’s supposed to help people unable to work. If you are able to work, then certain demands should be made of you,” said Malmborg.

The drawback with this approach is that the job market as a whole is depressed and probably won’t be able to accomodate tens of thousands of extra job seekers from the social insurance system.

“There has to be a demand for these workers,” said Malmborg. “If there isn’t one in the job market, then we need to create one. That’s what I mean by ‘extraordinary measures’. I don’t envisage people getting stuck in this transitional job market. The idea, of course, is to try to shepherd them back into the regular job market.”

Malmborg called for better co-operation between social insurance offices, rehabilitation services and employment services as well. And other social insurance experts said there should be more money available to help employers take on those on long term sick on a probationary basis.

The government is also looking to reduce the number of early retirements from 75,000 last year to under 64,000 per year. The status of these people will also be reviewed by social insurance offices with a view to getting them back into the job market.

The Social Insurance Board has been criticised recently by Sweden’s Supreme Audit Institution and the influential Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Sources: Dagens Nyheter, Sveriges Radio