THE year is not even over yet, and we still have a good two months to go, but a list detailing national public holidays and how Malaysians can go for vacations on long weekends with just nine days of leave, has already been circulating.
It’s as if Malaysians can’t wait for more off days for 2020, to make use of the provision to start planning their getaways.
Malaysians will be able to enjoy 12 long weekends next year. The extended holiday is the result of having a public holiday fall on either Friday or Monday.
We are not even talking about the 13 days of gazetted national public holidays and the extra holidays declared by the states.
Oh, what a blessed country Malaysia is, indeed, and how some whine and grumble about ethnicity, whether at congress or at the office, yet love the holidays to celebrate the festivals of every ethnic group.
Even the fanatically loud racists, who conveniently forget their origins, rejoice in these celebrations.
If that’s not enough, some of us even “celebrate” silently when a VVIP dies because it means another off day!
Then, there are state government leaders who simply declare public holidays when their state football team wins silverware. And it’s not even the AFF Suzuki Cup.
But the most incredulous and outrageous public holiday was the one Kelantan declared to boost attendance at the protest against the implementation of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd) in the federal capital last December.
We have heard of cuti sakit (medical leave), cuti kahwin (marriage leave), cuti bersalin (maternity leave), and so for the first time, we had cuti protes (leave to protest).
Last week, Malaysian women workers were told that they will have longer maternity leave. They will automatically be entitled to 90 days of leave each time they have a baby.
Among the incentives announced by Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng when tabling the 2020 Budget was a review of the Employment Act 1955 to increase maternity leave from 60 days to 90 days effective 2021.
Deputy Women, Family and Community Development Minister Hannah Yeoh said it was a very basic leave that women were asking for and when babies are with their mothers for the first three months, there would be less incidences of babies choking on milk.
Previously, Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran had said: “Maternity leave is essential for a new mother as after birth, she needs to take good care of herself to rebuild her strength and will need plenty of rest, good nutrition and help. Both maternity leave and paternity leave are part of workers’ welfare, family well-being and the well-being of the community.”
Yeoh said it was a myth that women abused their maternity leave by spending it on holiday. She said that maternity leave for mothers was to ensure both babies and mothers spend time together and so that babies are breastfed.
“Maternity leave is not for holiday or fun, it is really for exclusive breastfeeding. Doctors always encourage mothers to breastfeed their babies for six months, ” she told reporters last week.
Not many Malaysians, especially employers, are willing to openly express their discontent on the maternity extension.
It’s simply politically incorrect, and anyone saying it affects productivity would earn the wrath of workers groups.
But privately, many employers are already complaining that Malaysians have too many public holidays, where they must shoulder the absence of their employees while productivity takes a hit.
The fact remains that when mothers go on maternity leave, someone has to pick up the slack, and most often, at no extra pay or incentive.
Just ask the teachers, especially the single ones who are forced to handle these tasks, and the resentment is palpable. It doesn’t help that there are those who seem to be more (re)productive in delivering babies than others.
With so many breaks, maternity or gazetted holidays, it has caused critical work needing to be delayed or postponed.
Clients overseas have always queried why Malaysia has to be among the countries with the most public holidays, and cynically questioned if we work at all.
In fact, we are the South East Asian nation with the most public holidays, if we account for state holidays as well. We have won it by default because no other Asean country has states, though some have provinces.
And of course, every state – except Penang, Melaka, Sabah and Sarawak – has a Ruler, meaning scripted public holidays marking their official birthdays.
This year alone, there have been 15 national public holidays – with four resulting in extended weekend breaks. Plus, the 30 state-level holidays and two-day weekends.
That belt of 10 weeks had six public holidays – starting with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong’s installation on July 30, right through to Malaysia Day on Sept 16.
In many cases, where work operations continue, even during public holidays, employers have had to pay their staff three to four times more than the daily wage rate when they have worked on public holidays.
With stiff competition from the emerging industrial economies in the region, our manufacturers have no choice but to keep their plants operating on public holidays even at the cost of sacrificing their profit margin in paying the overtime wage rates.
China, which is known as the factory of the world for producing almost everything, has only seven declared holidays.
Malaysia is already a high-cost country for basic manufacturing because we are short of labour. It can’t be denied that the frequent public holidays make it more difficult for the country to compete in low-cost production.
It might come as a surprise to most Malaysians, but the United States is one of few countries with 10 days of public holidays, while Germany only has nine.
As unpopular a decision as it may seem, it’s time the government recalibrates the system and takes the bold step to do away with minor public holidays.
It’s unacceptable to declare a public holiday for winning the Malaysia Cup or to attend a protest. It should be made illegal.
Just read up on countries with many public holidays, and you will find a European country which had to be bailed out by international financial institutions.
What’s next? Be a populist government and promise longer paternity leave because as fathers, we also need to build that special bond with our child from day one, which is only possible if we spend more time at home with the toddlers?
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Wong Chun Wai began his career as a journalist in Penang, and has served The Star for over 35 years in various capacities and roles. He is now editorial and corporate affairs adviser to the group, after having served as group managing director/chief executive officer. On The Beat made its debut on Feb 23 1997 and Chun Wai has penned the column weekly without a break, except for the occasional press holiday when the paper was not published. In May 2011, a compilation of selected articles of On The Beat was published as a book and launched in conjunction with his 50th birthday. Chun Wai also comments on current issues in The Star.