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Nation
Can Longer Weekends Benefit Both Workers and Productivity?
 NO. 35 AUGUST 27, 2015

(LI SHIGONG)

The State Council, China's cabinet, issued a circular in early August, suggesting employers across the country make flexible working arrangements and give their workers Friday afternoons off during hot summer days in order to boost tourism and consumption.

According to a recent survey conducted by Beijing-based news portal Sina.com.cn, nearly 80 percent of the estimated 30,000 respondents believe that a two-and-half-day weekend is manageable, though most people think that they will actually not be able to enjoy the benefits of such a scheme. Some have even predicted that this proposal will eventually add another perk for employees of government departments, large state-owned enterprises and public institutions, while the vast majority of working people will have to grin and bear it. They complained that those who work in small and medium-sized companies, particularly in the private sector, cannot even enjoy a regular two-day weekend.

Believe it

Li Sihui (Guangming Daily ): The two-and-half-day weekend is not a compulsory measure. The State Council proposed such a scheme in the summer, targeting only organizations that can afford to do so. Undoubtedly, government departments, state-owned enterprises and public institutions are more likely to be the first beneficiaries.

A lot of previous reforms had been tested on civil servants and public institutions before they became effective nationwide, such as family planning and paid annual leave. These reforms are not easily implemented because of vested interests. While employees might be very happy with a weekend extension program, most employers will find it unacceptable. Cutting working hours is tantamount to squeezing profit margins.

Production and consumption must be balanced to guarantee healthy economic operation. The problem we now face is the overcapacity in various sectors together with sluggish consumption. An extra half-day holiday means more time for people to travel, which will help boost consumption. Ultimately, businesses and individuals will benefit.

In the past, the focus of personnel management was always on whether someone was late or absent, whereas nowadays it is more important to ensure that an organization has done enough to ensure two-day weekends and paid annual leave for its workers. This implies that China is trying to better protect laborers' right to rest and leisure.

The word "rest" is to be understood as a way for the staff to escape from their daily routines temporarily so that they can come back to work more energetic. Apart from this, holidays are an opportunity for people to further develop or improve themselves.

To rest, to have days off work, and to travel are very important in one's life. Legal holidays can basically satisfy people's demand in this regard. When conditions permit, individuals should be allowed to reach an agreement with their employers for more flexible holidays. Far from being a fantasy, it is to a certain extent an inevitable result of social and economic development.

We must make it clear that to encourage longer weekends is not solely beneficial to the development of tourism and it does not aim at offering extra welfare to civil servants. This new policy has to convey the message that people need enough rest and that their right to rest and leisure needs to be ensured.

Deng Haijian (Jinan Times ): As for the State Council's proposal of longer weekends, a survey conducted by The Beijing News  showed that only 19 percent of the respondents contend that their employers might be able to implement the scheme.

The right of workers to rest and paid annual leave are protected under the law. It is not an extra welfare benefit. When this right is denied, there is a rise in cases of exhaustion and even sudden death. Prior to the latest proposal, the State Council issued a document last April, which requires guaranteeing workers' right to paid annual leave.

A proper balance between work and rest will help maintain productivity. Besides, by advocating more holidays and paid annual leave, we don't mean to deny the importance and necessity of hard work, but we suggest that the public deserves to enjoy the fruits of economic growth amid increasing social and economic pressure.

The key for thoroughly implementing policies concerning paid annual leave or longer weekends is not how many people can benefit from it, but to what extent the government can protect labor rights.

Wait and see

Lin Xiao (People.com.cn): Against the backdrop of rising work pressure and limited holidays, the two-and-half-day weekend scheme has been devised to allow workers to receive some relief from huge work burdens. It is beneficial for their health and daily life.

However, there are doubts as to whether this well-intentioned initiative can be put into practice, because it is not compulsory and will not be legally binding. Government departments, public institutions, as well as state-owned and foreign-funded enterprises are more likely to implement this new scheme, while it would prove almost impossible for most private companies to implement.

According to media reports, for a large number of people who are employed by small and medium-sized companies, particularly private businesses, even four days off work per month is highly improbable. Many of them say that they will never get Friday afternoons off, complaining that they do not yet even have fully guaranteed two-day weekends.

The debate on the two-and-half-day weekend scheme will for many bring to mind the policies concerning paid annual leave, which have been with us for decades but never been widely implemented. As most employees are scared of losing their jobs, they will not so much as argue with their employers if their request for paid annual leave has been rejected.

When even the legally protected paid annual leave is not soundly guaranteed, how can we expect the two-and-half-day weekend initiative to work?

It is expected that a larger number of workers, if not all, will benefit from official holiday arrangements. Therefore, while producing policies regarding holidays, relevant government departments should also work out supportive measures to ensure their implementation.

Zheng Duanduan (Cnhubei.com): While the regular two-day weekend is still a dream for a large number of working people in various industries, a two-and-half-day weekend is really a luxury many people can barely afford.

Online surveys have shown that most correspondents are in favor of the State Council's proposal for longer weekends, as two and half days are enough even for one to plan a short journey. People will have more time to be together with their families. However, the worry is that this measure will finally be exclusively enjoyed by a limited number of employees. If staff workers of government departments and public institutions no longer work on Friday afternoons, local residents will have nowhere to go if they have urgent issues to solve through these establishments.

Obviously, the only way out is to implement policies concerning paid annual leave in a tangible manner, so that the working people can make arrangements for their days off work. As a result, holidaymakers don't need to all rush to the same scenic spots during the same period of time, which would be beneficial to the protection and operation of these spots. This is also an effective way to increase consumer spending. After rest and relaxation, employees will become more energetic when they come back to work.

Therefore, as long as paid annual leave remains unrealistic in most industrial sectors, the two-and-half-day weekend seems futile.

Besides, the State Council document says that the initiative to extend weekends has been proposed for the purpose of boosting economic growth through developing tourism, but his goes against the role holidays should play for working people. The government is supposed to pay more attention to the protection of labor rights and employ all possible means to ensure that its people can enjoy various holidays, instead of always making economically motivated policies.

Copyedited by Eric Daly 

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com 

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