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Many Swedes say fatigue is valid reason for skipping work

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STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ In a country plagued by skyrocketing sick-leave costs, a new survey presented Friday found that 40 percent of Sweden's population believes it is acceptable to skip work because they feel tired or have trouble getting along with colleagues.

The survey, by the National Social Insurance Board, also found that 65 percent of the 1,002 people interviewed think a stressful work situation is also a valid reason for calling in sick and collecting pay under Sweden's liberal social programs.

The survey shows ``a deep lack of knowledge about what the health insurance is meant to cover,'' board director Anna Hedborg said of Sweden's 9 million residents.

Alf Eckerhall, a social insurance expert with the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise, went a step further: Many Swedes deliberately abuse the system.

``The insurance laws clearly state that inability to work because of illness'' is the only valid reason to stay home, Eckerhall said. ``The key word is 'inability to work' _ not 'illness.'''

The survey, conducted June 17-24, did not have a margin of error.

Sweden's extensive cradle-to-grave welfare system includes generous programs covering sick leave, parental leave and unemployment benefits. But paying for workers on long-term sick leave and disability has become one of the government's biggest expenditures. Sick leave compensation tripled from $2 billion in 1997 to $6 billion in 2002.

In Sweden, the employer pays for the first three weeks' sick leave, and workers can call in sick for seven days before needing a doctor's certificate or medical proof.

People who call in sick do not receive any compensation for the first day they are absent. But Eckerhall said many people get around that by leaving work a little early, and then calling in sick for that day. That counts as one sick day, which lets them start receiving sick pay the next day.

``That means your day without compensation was 15 minutes long,'' Eckerhall said. Hedborg said the board will launch a massive nationwide campaign to inform people that illness is the only valid reason to stay home from work.

``To many, this message may seem hard and even insensitive,'' she wrote. ``The truth is, that if we don't defend our common insurance today, we won't be able to afford keeping it.''
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