Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Holidays as ordinary days

This was my column last Monday. Been really busy; got sick as well so I missed my column today. Sigh.

Today is a special working holiday in commemoration of the founding anniversary of religious sect Iglesia ni Cristo. There was a gaffe a couple of weeks back when Malacañang released on the same day two sets of proclamations one declaring today a special working holiday and another one declaring today a special non-working holiday. Media organizations released news stories based on which of the two press releases they picked up.

Thus, one daily reported that today was going to be a special non-working holiday while another newspaper reported that today was going to be a special working holiday. Apparently, the two proclamations were prepared at the same time to cover whichever decision the President would eventually make. It wasn’t clear what specific criteria the President used to guide her decision.

But the two powerful blocs that stood on the balance were the INC sect on one hand and the businessmen on the other. Recall that the business sector had already complained about how the declaration of additional holidays was costing it millions of pesos. Who would the President favor—the religious sect that has the potential to make or break elections because their members vote as one, or the business sector that makes the economy run and for whom an additional non-working holiday would entail millions of pesos in additional holiday premiums?

In the end, the President picked the interests of the business sector and declared today a special working holiday —but someone committed the blunder of releasing both proclamations. The matter was resolved through subsequent clarifications but the whole thing clearly unraveled the way things are done in this country. Even religious sectors lobby for specific advantages. Business has to fight tooth and nail to ensure that the interest of the greater good prevails.

However, I must register my consternation at this repeated use of this nonsensical hybrid that is called a special working holiday! I have written about this before and while I do not claim to be read by people in the Palace although many of the stuff I have complained about in this space were addressed one way or the other, Malacañang continues to issue proclamations declaring certain days as special working holiday.

A working holiday is an oxymoron. It is a contradiction in terms. Adding the word special does not fix the problem and in fact complicates it even further. Declaring certain occasions as special working holidays is an empty gesture. In Tagalog, “pampalubag loob lamang.” The whole point of declaring holidays is to set it aside as a special day of commemoration and by definition, this means people take a break from their work, students don’t have classes, etc, precisely so that people can properly observe the celebration. How can people observe a holiday if they continue with their usual routines?

The Commission on Higher Education interfered last Saturday and declared that there will be no classes today. The declaration addressed the concern of members of the INC who openly griped about how students who are members of the sect would have to miss classes today so that they could converge at the INC headquarters in Quezon City for the celebration. The downside to the declaration was that administrators of many schools would have to juggle their school calendars once again to make up for the school holiday. We should remember that many schools already deferred the opening of classes for 10 days due to the H1N1 pandemic.

And then there is the issue of how workers should be compensated today. Since last week, human resource management professionals have been in a quandary regarding what formula or scheme would be used to compute salaries of employees today. You see, employee compensation is a highly sensitive matter that needs clear-cut guidelines.

A non-working holiday is not a problem—employees don’t get paid anything extra. But what about special working holidays? According to Department of Labor Memorandum Circular 01 issued on March 8, 2004, workers are not entitled to holiday premiums on special working holidays. However, a number of lawyers continue to contend that non-payment of holiday premiums on holidays violate the spirit and intent of the law covering holidays.

A lawyer-friend who is HR director of a college said he talked to several lawyers to see if there was a consensus. Half of the lawyers he talked to were of the opinion that no overtime premiums would have to be paid. The problem was that the other half thought that workers were entitled to holiday premiums precisely because of the absence of clear-cut guidelines.

Our problem with holidays is borne out of the fact that we keep tampering with our national holidays to suit the whims of various interest groups. The solution to the problem is for Malacañang to keep a hands-off policy toward holidays so that dirty politicking stops getting in the way. It is the job of Congress to promulgate legal holidays anyway.

The schedule of holidays has been fixed for as long as I can remember and they actually already cover all the occasions that should rightfully be commemorated. To illustrate, Malacañang tried to avert possible confusions next year by declaring six months in advance the schedule of holidays for 2010 through Proclamation 1841 last July 22. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita gloated about how the Palace was being proactive this time around. What he conveniently left out was that proclamations that seek to change the schedule of holidays have to be made six months in advance to comply with the law.

Republic Act 9492 clearly specifies that “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.” They were just complying with the law.

Proclamation 1841, which was supposed to avoid possible confusions about the schedule of holidays in 2010, left out the date of elections next year. I’d like to believe this was a simple oversight rather than being indicative of some sinister political machinations meant to thwart the 2010 elections. At the same time, the proclamation ignored the recently-passed House Bill changing the date of the commemoration of Rizal Day from Dec. 30 (his death) to Jan. 19 (his birthday)

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