Staff called back to work as Xinjiang scraps week-long National Day holiday

Civil servants, workers at state enterprises, teachers and some students have to cancel plans due to last-minute order ‘to prepare’ for party congress

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 03 October, 2017, 10:32pm
UPDATED : Friday, 06 October, 2017, 10:54am

Authorities in the Chinese region of Xinjiang have abruptly cancelled the week-long National Day holiday “to prepare” for the Communist Party congress later this month, residents say.

The last-minute blanket order affects civil servants, employees of state enterprises and government-affiliated units as well as teachers and some students in the far west region.

Locals complained that they had to cancel travel plans after they were summoned back to work and school on Monday – the first time a “golden week” holiday has been scrapped.

While the rest of the country enjoys an extended eight-day break, some employees were told to work through October – including weekends – while others were even ordered to attend ideology classes.

Xinjiang is going all-out in a 50-day political campaign that has seen local governments answering last month’s call by the regional administration to ensure there are no “large, medium or small-scale” incidents around the party congress. The twice-a-decade leadership reshuffle starts on October 18 and marks the start of President Xi Jinping’s second term.

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Internet controls have been tightened and security measures stepped up across the country ahead of the congress. But in the tense Xinjiang region – where ethnic violence has killed hundreds of people in recent years – the authorities have ramped up security, with a heavy police presence on the streets and religious restrictions. Xinjiang is home to at least 11 million mostly Muslim Uygurs.

No official statement was released about the holiday being cancelled – workers and students say they were notified at different times in the lead-up and even at the start of the break – but it is being widely discussed on social media in China.

Regional carrier Urumqi Air told passengers they could get a refund or reschedule flights if their holidays had been cancelled between October 1 and 8.

“According to the government of the [Xinjiang Uygur] autonomous region, all government offices and schools will not take a break during the National Day holidays … Urumqi Air is offering a full refund or to change tickets for these customers during the National Day holidays,” the airline said in a notice on Monday afternoon.

But notices put out by the Xinjiang government last month acknowledged the October 1 to 8 holiday, giving no indication that it would not go ahead.

Its propaganda bureau did not respond to requests for comment.

The last-minute change has drawn complaints from those who have had to cancel holiday plans, among them a 31-year-old worker at a state-owned enterprise in Urumqi.

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“To prepare for the party congress ... staff at all levels of the Xinjiang administration and state institutions have been told to work through to the end of October, including weekends,” he said. “We weren’t sure if we would be allowed to go on leave. Then suddenly we were told we had to work on Monday.

“Everyone is complaining. One of my colleagues had already gone to Shihezi [about 130km from Urumqi] on Sunday and had to come back to work on Monday with no compensation for the travel costs,” he said.

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Local government officials, academics and students told the South China Morning Post they had also been called back to work.

“This is the first time the whole National Day holiday has been cancelled,” a nurse from southern Xinjiang said.

Those working in the private sector were apparently not affected by the cancellation.

Arrangements for students varied but one university employee said academics had been ordered this week to study a collection of confessions made by corrupt officials.

The snap decision comes a year after rising political star Chen Quanguo took over as party boss of Xinjiang, introducing a series of security measures including asking residents to hand over their passports and beefed up police patrols.

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James Leibold, an expert on China’s ethnic minorities at La Trobe University in Australia, said the move appeared to be an effort by Chen to “demonstrate his utmost loyalty to Xi and that he is a safe pair of hands”.

“Yet the cancelling of the ‘golden week’ holiday for officials would certainly be highly unpopular and risks alienating Chen’s base of support among local officials in Xinjiang,” Leibold said.

The State Council, China’s cabinet, said late last year that the National Day holiday would run from October 1 to 8 and those who had to work during the period would be paid up to three times their regular rate, state news agency Xinhua reported.

Additional reporting by Nectar Gan, Viola Zhou and Choi Chi-yuk