Revolutionary solution to holiday crisis
By G. Janarathanan
Sri Lanka is one country in the world that enjoys the most number of holidays - 143 holidays per year in some sectors. This is unacceptable specially because there is no productivity on these days.

If these holidays are put to good use, then there is no problem in having many holidays like having shramadana campaigns on holidays which is not a bad idea. This could be done in one's home or by a group getting together to clean the environment in the village, a road or maintaining and attending to minor repairs to public property. May be even tree planting, putting up rainwater conservation devises, digging wells and tanks to use ground water for washing cars, watering plants and washing clothes thus conserving drinking water.

Purpose of holidays
If we closely study the original purpose of holidays, we find only a few holidays serving its purpose now because society itself has changed a lot from what it was many years ago.

Take Thai Pongal for example. Religious observances start by early dawn and are over by 10 in the morning after visits to the temple. The rest of the day is left for exchanges/visits with close relatives, which was possible then. But now relatives are scattered in different parts of the world and one, with a few exceptions, tends to stay indoors and watch TV. This could be true in other religions too. Even otherwise can we afford entertainment against productivity?

Casual workers are not in favour of holidays since their income is based on what they earn daily. Even for a small family, daily wages are not enough to set aside for savings.

When there are holidays, the casual worker has no work and no money.
This is a sector that would be happy to work all the 365 days. The second sector is the permanent and monthly paid worker. They too have to find other means to pay hospital bills, schoolbooks, uniforms, social expenditure and so on. They find holidays a financial burden because it means spending money on entertainment. The third category are those monthly paid or self-employed but well off in all sectors of expenses-food, clothing, shelter, schooling, entertainment etc.

But they too have bigger aspirations like higher education for the children, owning a house and other needs which require huge sums of money. This kind of worker also likes to work harder and earn more for his workplace as more profit means a bigger bonus, more overtime and less spending on entertainment and other holiday-related expenses.

Now why should there be holidays for non-Hindus on Deepavali or Thai Pongal day; or for non Muslims on Haj or Prophet Mohamed's birthday; or non Christians on Good Friday or Christmas; or non Sinhalese on New Year or Vesak? Most people not knowing what to do on those days spend a lot of money on entertainment and waste national wealth indirectly.

This holiday is a must since Poya is not only significant to Buddhists but to others too. Poya holidays came in for two reasons - as a sacred Buddhist holiday and the other for health. In the good old days, old people irrespective of religion will not work on a Poya day because it is a heavy day. The influence of the moon is so great on the human constitution that it is best to rest on that day.

Working all year
It is not new to work round the year, all 365 days without a single holiday. If we look around we see many sectors already work throughout the year without closing like restaurants from small wayside tea boutiques to five star hotels, grocery shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, LP Gas suppliers, bakeries, press, radio station, TV stations, police, electricity supply, emergency worlds, private hospitals, cinemas, airport, seaport, railways, road, transport, water supply and telecommunication.

Revolutionary solution
We need to consider a plan where all sectors of the economy work throughout the year. Those who resist excessive holidays and a loss to the economy should consider this seriously. All sectors should work through the year except on Poya days, which mean there will be only 12 or 13 statutory holidays.

To ensure a trouble-free, transition and to ensure efficient functioning of the workplace, all holidays now enjoyed by the workforce would be retained.
However there is no statutory holiday except Poya days. All other holidays are compulsory or optional depending on the occasion and the individual. Each religious group must have their holidays as compulsory holidays and for others it is a compulsory working day. The employee has the choice of taking the leave that he enjoys on any day he wants.

To ensure a smooth functioning of this system, some employees should be assigned to various sectors in an establishment to coordinate and cover any point found vacant due to an employee going on leave.

By this we will see the country working round the year except Poya days and any worker can get his 'other' work done on any day his choice including Sundays.

We will be the first in the world to solve this holiday problem through this revolutionary method. Production and overseas business partners irritated by excessive holidays will be very happy as the country would be at work every day and help in the economic recovery too. This article is not an end to itself but to trigger a debate and discussion on how to trim our holiday structure.

We need a presidential commission to review and revise holidays and to call for suggestions from the Employers Federation, trade unions, the self employed, Department of Labour and other connected government sections, the two main political parties and other opposition parties and the clergy.

This is a long process but some solution needs to be found to our holiday system if this country is to grow economically.

The holiday curse!
This is the month of holidays when the public and private sectors close for a week or even two. No one doubts that Sri Lanka has too many holidays and that this is one of the deterrents towards achieving higher levels of economic growth.

We invite views from the public on radical ways of reducing holidays. Or is there is a need - like what this writer in the article that we publish today urges -- for a comprehensive study by a commission or established group comprising representatives from all sectors on the way forward vis-à-vis a proper holiday structure? Keep contributions small - maximum 300 words to accommodate a lot of views - and send your thoughts on this topic to The Business Editor, The Sunday Times, No. 8, Hunupitiya Cross Road, Colombo 2 or email -

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