FYI: In which country do workers enjoy the most public holidays?

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 May, 2008, 12:00am

The common perception is that Hongkongers are a highly strung, chronically overworked lot, but in yet another month that has multiple public holidays - Labour Day on May 1 and Buddha's Birthday a mere 11 days later - it may be time to sit back and reflect on how (relatively) good the employed of this fair city have it. This year most workers will enjoy a total of 17 government-mandated days off, over and above any leave days their paymasters see fit to give them. To the harried executive that probably doesn't sound like nearly enough but remember this - if there was a global index gauging territories in terms of holiday time, Hong Kong would be near the top of the chart.

Measuring which places hand out the most off days is a tricky business. Nearly every country maintains a list of official national holidays that is etched in stone, but many also celebrate festivals or occasions that have become statutory holidays in everything but name. In largely Christian Canada, for example, the federal government never got around to putting Easter Sunday in its holiday books, but anyone looking to pay off their parking tickets or do some banking the following Monday would have a tough time of it - all public servants and plenty of workers in the private sector are entitled to spend the day at home in bed. In famously laid-back Spain, whenever an official holiday happens to fall two days prior to or after a weekend, virtually the entire country will fail to report for duty on the 'work' day in between, a practice known locally as hacer puente, or 'building a bridge'.

Adding to the confusion, states or provinces in many larger countries are given the power to hand out holidays of their own, meaning two tired workers from the same nation can have massive disparities in their days off. The best example of this is the United States, where in addition to a rather paltry 10 national holidays, residents of Washington are blessed with Emancipation Day and people living in Texas can steer clear of the office for a day celebrating the state's (quasi) independence. The lucky denizens of Florida are entitled to a whopping 12 holidays beyond those the federal government gives them, including days to commemorate Mardi Gras and the state flag.

Nations most generous in terms of holidays tend to be in Asia, middle to low income, and multiethnic, which forces the authorities to respect a greater range of religious or cultural observances and inevitably results in more days off. Topping the tables is Sri Lanka, which thanks to a patchwork of Hindu, Buddhist, Christian, Muslim and historical holidays will give its workforce no less than 25 days off this year. The Philippines and Malaysia follow close behind. At the other end of the scale lies Britain, where the year is disrupted by a measly eight officially sanctioned days of rest. The British work ethic seems to have extended to former colonies; Jamaica and Zimbabwe also give their citizens less than 10 days off a year.

Of course, if you're desperate, there's always the option of calling in sick.