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LONDON - British supermarket chain Tesco plans to test a new program aimed at cutting its employees' sick days, in which workers would get extra holiday or benefits if they did not take days off, according to a report by the BBC.
Tesco said it was looking to cut levels of unplanned absence and is introducing the measures in about 20 stores. It has already introduced the program in its Irish stores, where the company says absenteeism rates are lower.
A more controversial part of the plan would require that people are off for more than three days and provide a doctor's note in order to get sick pay.
Usdaw, a workers' union, told the BBC it was monitoring the program and was working closely with the company.
Usdaw spokesman Kevin Hegarty said that the union had no objection to the pilot, but added that this "was not the same as fully supporting it."
Hegarty pointed out that the trial was being run on a purely voluntary basis and would not affect any staff who already had contracts with Tesco.
Other trade unions that declined to speak on the record said that sick pay was an important part of an employer's relationship with staff. They placed it in the same category as pension provisions and holiday pay.
Sick leave currently costs UK businesses an estimated 11 billion British pounds a year, according to the BBC.
By law a company in the UK is not obliged to pay for sick pay itself, and it is down to contractual agreements between the workers and employer.
The state, however, does underwrite a set level of support -- known as "statutory sick pay" -- to workers after the third day off.