Too many holidays
Do we have too many holidays for our own good? Young people who welcome time off from school love it, of course, but there are many who believe we have a bit too much of it, including the Department of Labor and Employment itself. Yet Malacañang seems to have a propensity for declaring holidays at the drop of a hat, while lawmakers have a similar propensity for creating new ones—and the business sector always gets unhappy when they do. Not surprisingly, numerous position papers have been written by business groups over the years, lamenting the “excessive” holidays we have in the Philippines.
How excessive are they? The Philippines currently has 18 fixed national holidays each year, 4 of which are “special nonworking” days, and that’s the minimum that further gets added to by special declarations within the year. In addition, there are some 184 local holidays based either on a presidential proclamation or an act of Congress. Of these, one is a regional holiday, 41 are provincial in scope, and 142 are specific to certain cities or municipalities. In contrast, we’re told that the Asean average is 15. We have more holidays than all of our comparable Asean neighbors, such as Vietnam with 10, Singapore with 11, Thailand and Malaysia with 15 each, and Indonesia with 17.
I recall how in financial institutions in whose boards I sat as independent director, there were many times when significant drops in monthly earnings were explained by the number of nonworking holidays in the particular month. But beyond bank earnings, economic guru Dr. Gerardo Sicat has pointed out that erratic and large numbers of nonworking holidays get in the way of crucial business transactions, as the world’s banks don’t stop working when ours do.
It’s not just business people who are averse to too many holidays. Millions of workers get disadvantaged, too. In an economy where the informal sector is estimated to account for around 40 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), there are probably more workers for whom a holiday means a day’s wages lost, than those for whom it means paid time off. A scan of our labor and employment statistics would suggest so.
Only 62.8 percent of our employed workers are wage and salary workers to begin with, and these include both those who get paid on a piecemeal “no work, no pay” daily rate, and those who get fixed salaries per month. For the latter, holidays either mean paid time off, or if the employee must work (such as in essential nonstop services like call
centers), he/she must be paid a premium
of 30 up to 100 percent on top of the regular daily rate—and that’s why employers would not welcome the holiday.
While an exact breakdown of the two types is not available from the data, we can surmise from available statistics that much of our wage and salary workers are in the “no work, no pay” category. Services-sector jobs account for 57 percent of our workers, dominated by wholesale and retail trade (ranging from workers in shopping malls to ambulant vendors) and transportation (pedicab, tricycle, jeepney, taxi and bus drivers). Fixed salary earners would likely be negligible in agriculture, which accounts for 25 percent of all jobs. And even in industry, which accounts for 18 percent of workers, there must be a substantial portion who are paid based on daily rates rather than monthly salaries. Thus, there is good basis to believe that there are more workers hurt by too many holidays than those who benefit from it.
The government once made “holiday economics” a deliberate economic strategy, on the expectation that holidays, especially when shifted to permit long weekends, would lead people to travel and thereby spur domestic tourism. Government statisticians have since determined that it created a negative, or at best insignificant, impact on the level of tourism activities and on employment.
All told, too many holidays is actually a lose-lose proposition for Filipinos. Maybe that’s why the government has now invented the term “special working holiday.” But the dictionary defines holiday as “a day of festivity or recreation when no work is done,” or simply, “a vacation.” So why call it a holiday at all?
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