Work must be put into holidays

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 12:39am
UPDATED : Sunday, 23 August, 2015, 12:39am

Holidays are a time for employees to relax and recuperate, but on the mainland, they are also seen through the prism of economic growth. Authorities view time off as a means of encouraging people to shop and spend on leisure and travel. A new State Council document promoting tourism investment and consumption therefore unsurprisingly pushes paid leave and a 4.5-day working week during summer. As worthy as the ideas may be, though, they have to be introduced with oversight and care and an eye on flexibility.

Paid leave regulations that took effect in 2008 stipulate five days a year for those employed for one to 10 years, 10 days for 10 to 20 years and 15 days for more than two decades. There is an opt-out clause, allowing employees to instead be paid three times their daily salary for untaken vacation. More than half make that choice, a national study by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security found; they were worried about promotion prospects or being seen by bosses as lazy. Smaller companies simply flout the rules, counting on lax enforcement or hedging on workers' concerns about keeping jobs, receiving bonuses or moving up the employment ladder.

So as much as employees may welcome the guideline that weekends should be extended during summer through the working week ending at lunch on Friday, only a percentage of the workforce is likely to benefit. For one, some private firms will complain about lost opportunities and - as they have done with the law on paid leave - claim they will be forced to shut down. Studies have also found mixed results when it comes to shorter working weeks; in some businesses, productivity was lifted, while in others, worker stress levels increased. Flexibility is therefore an important matter.

The government should adopt the same thinking with national holidays. The enforced days for National Day holiday week, the Lunar New Year and before or after cultural events hamper the nation's productivity and competitiveness, while putting severe strain on transport networks, roads, tourist sites and restaurants. Designated days should be set to a minimum and workers be allowed to take their holidays individually, not en masse, by arrangement with employers.

Vacations are a significant part of plans for economic restructuring, boosting the tourism and services industries and promoting spending. Laws and guidelines can help, but they are of limited meaning without enforcement and flexibility.