You can’t make this stuff up

June 23, 2012

In a theoretical sense, this recent decision by the European Court of Justice strikes me as propagating an injustice because it spreads some peoples’ misfortunes to everyone else. Whatever happened to being responsible for your own problems, the Stiff Upper Lip, and similar attitudes?

But in more practical terms, just think of all those who’ll be gaming the system. File a sick claim during a vacation and cop another month or so of time off. I’m sure there are plenty of doctors who’ll be willing to document the severity of your illness – with a little of the old quid pro quo.

Then think of how little surplus European countries have left in their economies to pay for this type of regulatory nonsense. Here’s an article from the New York Times describing the court’s decision (which manages to ignore the fact that people respond to incentives).

On Vacation and Sick? A Court Says Take Another

BRUSSELS — For most Europeans, almost nothing is more prized than their four to six weeks of guaranteed annual vacation leave. But it was not clear just how sacrosanct that time off was until Thursday, when Europe’s highest court ruled that workers who happened to get sick on vacation were legally entitled to take another vacation.

“The purpose of entitlement to paid annual leave is to enable the worker to rest and enjoy a period of relaxation and leisure,” the Court of Justice of the European Union, based in Luxembourg, ruled in a case involving department store workers in Spain. “The purpose of entitlement to sick leave is different, since it enables a worker to recover from an illness that has caused him to be unfit for work.”

With much of Europe mired in recession, governments struggling to reduce budget deficits and officials trying to combat high unemployment, the ruling is a reminder of just how hard it is to shake up long-established and legally protected labor practices that make it hard to put more people to work and revive sinking economies.

Update: Via Samizdata, I ran across an article in The Telegraph about this decision. It’s titled It’s cruel European judges who are destroying jobs and contains some interesting paragraphs in it. Here are a couple:

[…] Of itself, this will not add much to the unemployment totals. Our government estimates that it could cost British employers around £100 million ($156 million – jhc) a year. Spread throughout the economy, that is an irritation, not a catastrophe. But it is an unnecessary irritation. It sends all the wrong messages. A violation of common-sense, it adds to the job-stroke which is having such serious consequences in most of the EU. It reinforces the impression which many employers have formed over the past few decades: that hiring workers is risky and should be avoided wherever possible.

[…]Since the 1950s, employers’ options have opened up. They can replace men with machines. They can dispense with highly paid and truculent first-world workers and relocate manufacturing to countries where the locals are cheaper, docile and grateful. This creates difficulties. Although the right to work is economic nonsense, any advanced society will wish to run its economy as near as possible to full employment. A few years ago, the US had achieved that, by making it easy for employers to hire and fire. As a result, American workers had far fewer rights than their European equivalents, but anyone who wanted a job could have two of them.

Update: My brother the postmaster writes, "This idea of being able to use sick leave if sick supposedly while on annual leave is not so remote after all, since it’s already in place in the U.S.P.S. union contracts, and is used by a few […] So, I assume it’s also in place for other U.S. government workers."

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