Allowing sick leave without MC won't enhance productivity

Professor Ivan Png was spot on when he said that productivity can be achieved by resetting our mindset, without any costly investment, financially or technologically ("Four ways to raise productivity"; Tuesday).

However, I am rather apprehensive of his suggestion of employees taking sick leave without having to consult a medical practitioner.

If viewed from the healthcare angle, in terms of minimising consumption of medical services and resources, Prof Png's idea appears logical.

However, from a business perspective, most, if not all, employers will not be convinced that granting employees the liberty to absent themselves from work based on their own judgment contributes to higher productivity.

Under current labour market conditions, employers are already struggling to cope with day-to-day operational issues such as manpower shortage, high turnover and man-hour loss due to approved and unapproved absenteeism.

If the practice of taking sick leave without a medical certificate is mandated, employers would be powerless to deal with frequent abuses of such liberty.

In some organisations, a certain number of employees fully utilise their medical leave entitlement every year.

With the introduction of this right to take time off for sickness, we should not be surprised by a spike in absenteeism.

Perhaps the change should start with the dismantling of our entitlement mindset.

We should instead consider reducing the outpatient sick leave entitlement of 14 days to seven or 10 days.

After all, our national statistics indicate that the annual average medical leave consumed is five days.

The Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices should consider this option to enhance productivity, given that we now have better healthcare facilities and treatment than in the 1960s, when the Employment Act came into force.

If employers are expected to consider granting sick leave without medical consultation, it would be an opportune time for all parties to deliberate on this trade-off.

Brenton Ong Kho Keong

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 24, 2016, with the headline 'Allowing sick leave without MC won't enhance productivity'. Print Edition | Subscribe