Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Holiday acrobatics

This was my c0lumn last Monday, July 12. Sorry, late post.


Malacañang released last week Proclamation 1699, which laid out the holidays for 2009. According to the bright boys from the Palace, Filipinos will be enjoying 10 long weekends in 2009.

Perhaps because most everyone in this country is still experiencing a hangover from the extended—some say that the correct term is overextended— Christmas holidays, everyone bought the press release without even giving it closer scrutiny. Everyone simply parroted the announcement made by the bright boys from the Palace: There will be 10 long weekends this year. Not really.

Actually, there won’t be 10 long weekends this year. The conclusion that there will be 10 long weekends is unfortunately based on an assumption that is inherently flawed: That everyone, or at least most of the members of the working class in this country, do not have work on Saturdays.

Here’s a quick reality check: Only those who work in government service, in certain industries that are dependent on government services such as banking which is dependent on Central Bank clearing, and in companies that practice shortened workweeks enjoy five-day workweeks. Majority of Filipino workers, particularly those who work in the manufacturing industries and those in small and medium enterprises—easily more than 90 percent of our workforce, work Mondays to Saturdays.

Proclamation 1699 did not move certain holidays that fall on a Friday, and simply assumed (wrongly, I must emphasize) that observing these holidays on their original days (i.e., Fridays) will already create long weekends. Certain holidays that fall on a weekday were also not moved to a Monday. So “10 long weekends in 2009” is a myth.

So what this means is that most Filipino workers will still need to come to work on the Saturdays that follow the holidays that fall on a Friday. Or worse, what will most likely happen, as pointed out by fellow human resource management professionals in one of my e-mail groups, is that many companies will simply declare “no work” on these Saturdays and force their employees to go on leave on these days. Those who are paid on a daily basis will not get paid.

All this inconvenience is caused by that one wrong assumption by the bright boys in Malacañang—that everyone in this country follows the work schedule of government. In fact, they also made this stupid mistake when they declared Jan. 2, a Friday, as a holiday, but not Jan. 3, which was a Saturday. So what happened was that many workers didn’t get paid wages on Jan. 3.

This is why Republic Act 9492, the law that was passed by Congress and promulgated by Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on July 25, 2007 (yes, barely a year-and-a-half ago but these officials seem to have forgotten about it already!), supposedly to “rationalize the celebration of holidays” in this country and which legitimized the concept of holiday economics, specifically declared certain non-religious holidays as “movable holidays” to be observed on the Monday nearest these holidays. I have, in the past, expressed reservations about moving holidays, but unlike other people in this country, I know when to shut up when a decision has been made. When the law was passed and certain precedents were made, I stopped whining about our penchant for moving the celebration of important national holidays.

According to RA 9492, the following are the non-religious movable holidays and the dates these holidays should be moved to: Araw ng Kagitingan—Monday nearest April 9; Labor Day— Monday nearest May 1; Independence Day—Monday nearest June 12; National Heroes Day—Last Monday of August; Bonifacio Day—Monday nearest Nov. 30; Rizal Day—Monday nearest Dec. 30.

By not moving the holidays that fall on a Friday, Proclamation 1699 effectively violated RA 9492. In addition, RA 9492 has this specific provision: “for movable holidays, the President shall issue a proclamation, at least six months prior to the holiday concerned, the specific date that shall be declared as a nonworking day.” Clearly, the six months requirement was not met in this case as April 9 is barely three months away.

It’s very easy to dismiss these points as attempts at nitpicking. After all, many business associations, such as the powerful Makati Business Club, have already showered praises on Malacañan Palace supposedly for going on a limb to announce the holidays for 2009 in advance.

I can understand why most businessmen heaved a sigh of relief over the early announcement. Business organizations take great pains coming up with their schedule for the year and they do need to stick to these schedules religiously, especially production schedules. Just one unscheduled or belatedly-declared holiday can cause hundreds of millions of pesos in losses or additional manpower costs as they would have to pay employees overtime pay. In addition, surprise holidays affect cash flows. Many companies keep a tight rein over their liquidity and an additional day where there’s work and when certain banks are open but where there’s no clearing can create mayhem, particularly for companies with payables that are dependent on checks already stuck in clearing.

The main complaint of the business sector when Jan. 2 was announced as additional holiday was that the decision seemed like a populist, spur-of-the-moment decision rather than something that was given careful thought. So yes, Malacañang did right in announcing early on the schedule of holidays for 2009.

In fact, if the bright boys in the Palace just adhere to the provisions of RA 9492, there really is no need for these announcements. Everyone can simply do their own schedules. The problem is that they keep on changing the rules of the game every year. There are no clear precedents because the practice changes every year. Araw ng Kagitingan, which falls on Maundy Thursday this year, was moved to April 6, the Monday of that same week which follows the provision of the law. But in the past, logic was used to determine when a holiday should be moved. In this particular case, it should have been moved to April 13 to allow people a five-day holiday rather than shorten the workweek of April 6 to 10 to just two days.

The end result of all these holiday acrobatics is that everybody has to wait for Malacañang to issue the proclamation every year before he can finalize his schedule.

And more often than not, these proclamations are arrived at without proper consultation with the appropriate organizations whose inputs really need to be considered. This results in absurd situations where the President and her Cabinet seem like people who don’t know what comprise long weekends.

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