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Private busineses and public organizations estimate that some 10% of all employees will take sick leave this winter, compared to 4% - 5% in normal winter seasons, reflecting the swine flu threat.

While ministries, state-owned corporations and large industries aim to prepare for the trend, no practical steps have been taken as yet.

The Federation of Chambers of Commerce estimates that industry will incur NIS 100 million of loss or more if the outbreak does not turn into an epidemic. Should the situation worsen, essential service providers and industries could seek out retirees or even volunteers to man the sails.

The Manufacturers' Association held a meeting yesterday on the repercussions of the swine flu outbreak, with the participation of lawyers, economists and organizational consultants. Sources at the association said that many industries have sought advice on how to handle an outbreak of the flu, and they will shortly be receiving instructions prepared by the Health Ministry on maintaining personal and environmental hygiene in the workplace, as well as instructions on the rights of workers who are absent due to the disease.

A vice president of human resources at one high-tech firm said his company is preparing for a quarter to a third of its workers to work from home, and some other employees will be sent on vacation. "The high-tech industry is able to efficiently prepare to handle [a large outbreak] of swine flue, because its work pattern is flexible by nature," said the company officer. "But traditional industries like textile and metals, with production lines that require the presence of many workers, will have difficulty dealing with the repercussions of a major outbreak."

A big outbreak is likely to increase the number of people working from home, suggests one organizational consultant.