A way out of Lanka's holiday hoodoo
As the week of holidays is coming to an end
our thoughts turn once again to the issue of excessive holidays
being detrimental to the Sri Lankan economy. The very large number
of holidays, perhaps the highest for any country, it is often contended
decreases productivity in the economy. The business community has
been in the forefront arguing the case for a reduction of the number
of holidays. Trade unions and religious groups have opposed some
of the proposed changes.
In the last
decade there has been some progress in reducing the holidays marginally.
Even these reductions have met with opposition from those whose
holidays are reduced. We continue to have too many holidays, especially
in the first half of the year. The pluralistic composition of the
population is at the root of this problem. Apart from the majority
Buddhist community, the religious holidays of the Hindus, Christians
and Muslims too have to be accommodated. In that context it is difficult
to reduce the number of holidays.
There are two
significant issues that require to be addressed. One is the number
of holidays and the other is the disruptive feature of the holidays.
Perhaps the number of holidays, though excessive by international
standards, is the least damaging. The occurrence of these holidays
regularly especially during the first part of the year breaks the
flow of work.
In the case
of industrial enterprise that cater to overseas export markets,
such holidays disrupt their manufacturing schedules. The need to
pay higher holiday and overtime rates mean higher costs.
There is a
need to view the scheme of holidays in a holistic manner. Holidays
are very much a needed aspect of life and work. No human being could
work continuously. Every community and culture has a period of holidays
when the community as a whole takes it off and rejuvenates.
a very hardworking community, are well known for the long spell
of holidays and festivities during the Chinese New Year when work
comes to a halt. Western countries take a long break at Christmas
time. North Americans take an extended thanksgiving weekend as well.
The Sinhala and Tamil New Year are our equivalents, as is the case
in other Asian societies.
Often, as in
this year, there is a coincidence of the New Year with a Poya holiday
and Good Friday in April and Prophet Mohamed's Birthday and two
Vesak holidays falling in a row in May. This makes it a long period
of holidays. Such a long period of about a week is a much-needed
spell. It keeps alive the cultural life of the people, links people
with their rural roots, strengthens family bonds, gives an opportunity
for community recreation and revitalises the working community and
their families. Therefore such a spell of holidays is indeed as
essential a part of national production as the working days.
Being a community
that is also exposed to international culture we also celebrate
the Christmas period and usher in the Gregorian New Year with similar
fervour. A realistic approach to national holidays would be to accept
these two periods as periods of national holidays and have a week
of holidays during each of these periods. The extra holidays should
be deducted from the annual entitlement of leave. Some institutions
practise this. It is of course not possible for those institutions
that serve essential public needs to do so. Therefore this approach
to a holiday period has to be combined with exceptions.
One of the
unexplored possibilities for reducing the disruption of work is
for the religious holidays of the minority communities to be applicable
only to those who profess the religion. In fairness, while such
holidays would be mandatory to the declared believers, the number
of days so taken should be debited from their leave quota. Otherwise
they would enjoy an unfair advantage. Such a device would reduce
the disruption of work during the year. The intractable holiday
issue is the Poya holiday each month.
and culturally it would be impossible to eliminate this holiday.
This may have to be an economic cost that the country has to accept.
The most unproductive and damaging feature of our holidays lies
in their being strewn all over the calendar with mid week holidays
disrupting work. It is this aspect that must be addressed. In approaching
this issue there are possibilities for institutions to provide financial
incentives to enable work to continue without disruption though
the full work force may not be willing to work. Once again the plurality
of our population can be used to some advantage.
number of holidays and ensuring a smoother functioning of the economy
throughout the year is indeed a difficult problem to solve. The
religious sensitivities of our people and the lack of a pragmatic
approach militate against finding a solution. Attempts must continue
to be made on the lines suggested above to at least alleviate the