In the summer of 2002, I was struck by an evil and mysterious virus.
I'd wake up, in my warm bed in my warm room in the balmy July weather, shivering. Moving very slowly, I'd pull myself downstairs and fix something to eat, after which I'd feel a little better, though still weak and aching all over. But by late afternoon, I'd be shaking again like a malaria victim.
The doctor was sympathetic, reassuring and useful. She told me to take as many off-the-shelf painkillers as the instructions on the box allowed, get plenty of fluids and plenty of rest. After two weeks of this regime, I was sufficiently recovered that I could start taking a little light exercise. She suggested I walk at least as far as the village -- about ten minutes' stroll -- every day.
What astonished me, in that third week, was how weak I was. Like a kitten. Walking those ten minutes would leave me shaking and exhausted. It took me half an hour just to make breakfast, because after every cupboard I opened, every plate I lifted, I had to rest. I've never felt anything like it in my adult life.
After three weeks, I felt myself well enough to go back to work. I still tired quickly, left early, and several people commented on how thin/pale/shaky I looked. But I persevered, and in another week or so I was fully recovered.
What I didn't fully appreciate at the time -- because in England, as in Europe generally, it's standard practice -- was how easy it was to take time off work. I just handed over my doctor's notes, and that was that: three weeks' leave at full pay, no penalties, no paperwork, no questions.
Here in New Zealand, my employers aren't so enlightened. Here, we get five days per year of "sick leave", after which we stop getting paid. This is stupid on so many levels that, in my present diseased state, I can't even count them.
It creates an incentive for ill people to come in to the office, working badly and spreading their germs to other employees. It discourages people from taking time to recover properly, again encouraging them to perform substandard work and endanger their long-term health by coming back before they're really recovered.
"But", John argues, "if we didn't limit sick leave, what would stop people from taking days whenever they felt like it?"
Newsflash: they do that anyway. One or two "mental health days" per year is considered normal. Heck, the mere fact that I just used the phrase "mental health days" and you knew what I meant should be sufficient proof of that. If anything, the five-days-per-year limit incentivises us to take more of them, because otherwise we might not be getting our full quota. But if that runs to more than one or two days per year per employee, then perhaps you should consider that you as a company are doing something wrong. Like these Lemsips I'm quaffing, the "limited days" policy will suppress (some, though not all of) the symptoms, but it's just helping you to continue screwing up.
So here I am, sniffling and sneezing on my colleagues to make my point, and generally doing anything but work. That last is my professional duty: any work I did today would likely be more harm than good anyway.
When I get into Parliament, this "five days" crap is going to change.