Norway’s sickly Vikings

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WHEN Spanish air traffic controllers all got ill on the same day we knew they were telling porkys. The reality is the Spanish have a low absentee rate from work due to illness in relation to the rest of Europe. On the whole southern Europe take less days off sick from work than their hard working but apparently more sickly northern counterparts.

On the face of it, it seems northerners are more prone to illness. The reality is that job security is one factor that determines how often you throw a ‘sicky.’ Many Spanish are on temporary contracts due to what some see as the unwieldy bias in favour of worker’s rights in this country. So in relation to other (northern) countries those on temporary work contracts have little employment security and simply won’t risk taking time off work.

Thus whereas a Finn with huge employment security merely needs a hint of a tickly throat to phone in sick, a Spaniard will drag himself to work with the plague if it means he will keep his temporary work contract.

As well as job security, the state benefits of the unemployed have a great influence on the degree of fear one has of losing employment. Again, generally benefits are more generous in the northern countries.

With this in mind 6.7% of Greek workers took at least one sick day in 2004, compared to a whopping 24% of Finns.

The country with the craziest absentee rate has to be Norway. The very word ‘Nordic’ imbues a vision of Arian rude health and robustness. Apparently not so. I have been to Norway many times and everyone seemed OK. The streets were populated and there were no carts circling the area beckoning locals to bring out their dead.

Yet statistics tell a different tale. One of a nation on its knees with colds and flu, and generally any excuse not to go to work.

A staggering one in four Norwegians are off work every day through either sickness or disability. In 2004 the average Norwegian took off just under five weeks off work through claimed illness. Yet when they do decide to go to work they work only an average of 37.5 hours per week.

Add to this the generous maternity and paternity leave allowance and the state funded one year work sabbatical that all Norwegians employees have to …well just relax really, as well as the statutory holidays, and as of last week the only person working in Norway was an immigrant fish seller called Ali. Everyone else was either home with the sniffles, on holiday or generally chilling in a non work environment.

Yet with these, figures are always produced beside ones that state when a Norwegian does turn up at work they are very productive. So would I be if I worked as little as them. It wouldn’t be viewed as work, but more an interesting and different experience. “Yes that was nice”  I’d say after a long day, I could put up with that once a week or so. In Norway “ We must do this again sometime” isn’t a platitude that follows a dinner party, but one oft said by workers as they leave their “interesting experience.”

This explains why my part of the Costa Blanca is swamped with Norwegians. There’s no one left in their country. I swear Bergen has upped roots and moved wholesale to Alfas del Pi…leaving only Ali back home.

This is a new type of Viking influx here. Fuelled by oil and welfare payments, and yet still my Norwegian friends complain that everything is wrong with their country. We British should be so lucky. I once had a conversation with a very nice Norwegian here, in which he couldn’t decide to live in either Spain or Australia.

He had money oozing from his pores. Yet his main preoccupation was that Spanish shower trays were too small by 5cms, and he had a devil of a time with the local builders getting them to even appreciate the concept of Norway’s more capacious and superior shower trays. He was exasperated in a benign yet condescending way with the locals. And they with him.


 

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