Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Too much of a good thing

Indeed, in the context of the shorter working week, it makes sense to consider whether Malaysians have too much time off.That, of course, is a matter of debate, and depends on where you stand between employer and employee.
At first glance, the number of holidays does not differ much from the rest of the world. Some countries, like India and Slovakia, enjoy more than the 12 national holidays we do in Malaysia (14 if we count Deepavali, which is not a public holiday only in Sarawak and the Federal Territory of Labuan, and New Year’s Day, which is a public holiday in all States except Johor, Kedah, Kelantan, Perlis and Terengganu).
Other nations, like the UK and South Africa, have fewer public holidays. Even with the extra state holidays thrown in, Malaysia does not have the highest number of public holidays in Asia, much less the world. However, since these public holidays are now not only over and above the 30 days of paid annual leave — and the countless days of medical leave — but also the 104 days over the weekend under the five-day week, they do seem to amount to a lot of holidays.
As the Deputy Prime Minister pointed out, the five-day working week will not lead to lower productivity because civil servants will work longer hours during the week to make up the difference.
However, this is not the case with public holidays. While there are social and economic benefits in the leisure that holidays bring, from a more healthy balance between work and family life to the boost to the economy from a greater consumption of goods and services, too much of a good thing can also be bad. Too many holidays may be wonderful for workers but not for the country.While there are sound economic grounds for re-examining the number of public holidays, there are also sensitivities to be considered.
Religious and cultural festivals have to be honoured and some historic events should not be forgotten. Some dates like New Year’s Day are virtually standard worldwide. Moreover, dropping holidays from the calendar goes against the more widespread tendency to agitate for the inclusion of anniversaries and memorials yet to be celebrated as public holidays.
In short, the "sacrifice" of any public holiday for the greater good is bound to be contentious. A reappraisal of public holidays ought therefore to be rigorously and carefully undertaken.
nst 27/6/2005

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