Do Malaysian workers have too many holidays?

  • Community
  • Sunday, 22 Jan 2012

IN the true Malaysian tradition, people of all races will celebrate together in a display of racial harmony.

This year’s celebration is on the back of Christmas and year-end holidays, causing employers to complain that we have too many holidays.

Before I touch on this issue, let us spare a thought for the Kho Ying Qi, the schoolgirl whose body has been found after she fell and drowned in a flooded monsoon drain at Rock Road, Batu Lintang last January 3.

My thoughts goes to her family and also to the brave young man, Herman Silas, who lost his life trying to rescue her. A true hero. No doubt there is deep soul searching among many as to whether the unfortunate loss of lives could have been prevented.

Some may put it to fate. I also notice that railings have been erected between the drain and the pedestrian path. It is another case of too little too late. Does it have to be like this, waiting for a loss of life before we do the obvious?

In my column of December 11 last year, I wrote about the ugly fencing put up by the city council, ostensibly to reduce snatch thefts. I highlighted this safety issue. According to the council, the (kerbside) fencing is installed with the objective of reducing street crimes.

Now, I am all for reducing street crime. But will the fencing achieve this? Where is the study and the data to show that such fencing does reduce snatch theft? Until there are such conclusive data, I am not buying this argument; otherwise we will end up building fences along every street and road in the city. I am most concerned about safety.

Perhaps the fencing may prevent pedestrians from straying onto a road and get run over by a passing vehicle, but that is not why they are installed.

If safety is the concern, the money will be better spent to fence up the deep drains. Perhaps if that part of the drain at Rock Road have been fenced up we would not have the unfortunate loss of life.

Now, let’s move on to holidays. Are Malaysian workers getting too many of them?

Employers are complaining that with too many holidays productivity will suffer as huge numbers of workers take long breaks in January and February.

They claim that Malaysians enjoy over 50 national, school and state holidays a year and ranks in the top 10 countries with the most public holidays.

This claim is misleading, as a large number of the holidays are confined to specific states in the federation. Some examples are the Federal Territory Day (Feb 1) for Kuala Lumpur, and Thaipusam (Feb 7) for some states in the peninsula only.

Some even claim that Malaysians enjoy at least 121 rest days a year, excluding annual leave. This is certainly not true as most Malaysian workers, especially those in the private sector, do not have a five-day week.

The Federation of Malaysian manufacturers small and medium industries committee chairman, Tan Sri Soong Siew Hoong, said the many public holidays affect the ability to remain competitive in business and “make employers cry”.

Soong also expressed his unhappiness that public holidays were brought forward to weekdays if they fell on weekends. To him this is unnecessary.

He suggested that religious holidays be declared a personal choice so employees could celebrate on their own while colleagues of other faiths work as usual.

This is like suggesting that only Malaysians should celebrate National Day and non-Malaysians work as usual.

If employers can only cry and think of such nonsensical and ultimately selfish suggestions, small wonder productivity is so low and that they have to cry. What next? Workers should not have sick leave?

The Malaysian Employers Federation (MEF) said productivity would be affected during the holiday period with working days in between. It claimed that companies would not be able to operate at optimum levels as many workers would be taking leave.

The Special Task Force to Facilitate Business had suggested that MEF and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress come up with a formula for employers to “buy back” annual leave.

This is counter productive and again shows that employers still have archaic views of productivity. The most productive and innovative of companies actually insist that their employees take their leave and come back rejuvenated and even more productive.

Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia economic research committee chairman, Kerk Loong Sing, said, “Of course too many holidays are bad. They affect productivity, especially industries which cannot afford to stop production”.

Does this mean that workers should work non-stop, should not even have rest days because employers cannot afford to stop production?

Power stations, hotels, airports, airlines, trains, buses are running non-stop since time immemorial, without many problems.

“Employers also need to pay higher wages during public holidays,” he said.

This to me hit the nail right on the head. The real reason employers complain about public holidays is they have to pay more.

It is not about perceived loss of productivity. If management thinks 10 days of annual leave is too much for workers, ask how much top management gets – the norm is 30 days. It must also be noted that approval for leave is at the discretion of the management.

The editor of The Star aptly puts it: Any which way you look at it, Malaysian employers are molly- coddled. They want wages to be low, the currency to be weak, employees to take shorter leave, imported cheap labour to be plentiful, the retirement age to be low and workers to work long hours. But they do very little to be more productive – spend a bit more in terms of training and equipment to produce more with less and in shorter time.

The Malaysian Productivity Centre has stated that with proper planning, execution and monitoring, companies would be able to offset any damage to productivity despite the back-to-back public holidays over the next few months.

“Productivity does not depend on the number of days we work but on how much we manage to accomplish during those days,” it said.

So what is the problem? Malaysia is currently ranked second, after Singapore, in terms of productivity among Asean countries.

Furthermore a global survey by workplace provider Regus last year showed that Malaysians were clocking in more hours at work and bringing their office load back home too.

It showed that 47% of workers in Malaysia took their work home more than three times a week, compared with 43% globally, while another 15% regularly work more than 11 hours a day, compared with 10% globally.

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