Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Happy Holidays

This post is antedated. I am trying to recover the online version of my columns before the Manila Standard Today deletes the archives for 2011. I made the mistake of assuming the archive will be online for five years. Sigh.

When a friend groaned last year about how the movable holidays that produced long weekends—which, by the way was yet another one of the long and growing list of “sins” of the Arroyo administration—have become a thing of the past given the Aquino administration’s supposed adherence to stronger work ethics, I told my friend not to fret. I assured him that it was just a matter of time before the practice got resurrected in some form.

I am a human resource management professional whose job description includes keeping a keen eye on holiday proclamations because of their impact on compensation and work schedules. Based on experience, I know that no leader can keep his or her hands off from tinkering with holidays. Our leaders may hem and haw and go through the motions of balancing the needs of industry (less holidays) and those of employees (more holidays) but at the end of the day, the temptation to yield to populist measures has always proven difficult to resist.

Let’s face it. Declaring non-working holidays particularly to create long weekends is the easiest way to get on the good side of working people. Even workers who are paid on a daily basis can’t resist the lure of enjoying a day, or two, or better still, three or four consecutive days off from work even if it means not receiving wages. And yes, there are millions of workers in this country who do not earn anything on days when there is no work for them—no work, no pay, remember?

But non-working holidays have become an important part of our laid-back and fun-oriented culture. When I was growing up, Ferdinand Marcos made popular the concept of “sandwich” days; the days that fell between a Saturday or a Sunday and a holiday were always declared non-working days simply because, well, they happened to be sandwiched between a non-working day and a holiday. Eventually, every President this country ever had regardless of political leanings or moral conviction invented his or her own justification to declare non-working holidays. And our politicians kept on adding more and more holidays to the growing (and still growing) list of holidays.

Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo legitimized the practice with what was eventually called holiday economics, a concept that required logical acrobatics to truly comprehend because she tried to mix in local tourism, GDP, and other economic indicators; not that a holiday requires to be comprehensible at the cerebral level to be appreciated. An extra day or rest is an extra day of rest, thank you very much.

Declaring non-working holidays is one of those populist decisions that seem benign on the surface. Sure, the business sector riles about the added expense and the impact on productivity, but after everything is said and done, everybody hunkers down to enjoy the extended time off from work. Heck, even CEOs like to go on vacation!

Thus, despite the much-ballyhooed intent to trudge along the straight and narrow path, long weekends were created in 2011. And guess what, there are more long weekends we can look forward to in 2012. To be fair, not all the long weekends was created by declaring non-working holidays. Most of the long weekends were created by serendipity –regular holidays for the year just happened to fall around weekends. And in the event that legal holidays are indeed moved to the nearest Monday, industry will no incur added costs provided—and this is a critical proviso— the announcements are made way in advance so companies can adjust their production schedules accordingly.

MalacaƱang released last week Proclamation 295, which declares the holidays for 2012. Based on the proclamation, there will be 10 regular holidays, five special non-working holidays, and one special holiday (for schools) in 2012. That’s a total of 16 holidays. Actually, the list was short of two more holidays – Eid’l Fitr and Eid’l Adha, the dates of which are usually announced later in the year when confirmation is made on the actual dates of the holidays based on the Islamic calendar. That makes 18 holidays in 2012.

This does not include yet the local holidays decreed by local governments—for example, each city and municipality in this country observes its own special day. And then there are days when work is suspended because of force majeure such as during very heavy rains, or when a typhoon makes a visitation, or when there’s a transport strike.

We can add to the list the various leaves employees are entitled to such as 15 days vacation leaves, 15 days sick leaves, seven days paternity leaves, 75 days maternity leaves, emergency leaves, birthday leaves, solo parent leaves, gynecological leaves, union leaves, ad infinitum. Theoretically, there will be employees who can be on vacation for as long as six months each year. Would you believe there are quite a number of bills pending in Congress proposing more leave benefits for workers? This is because our legislators do not know any other kind of benefit except leaves. There is a bill that proposes a family leave for parents who need to take care of sick family members. There is another bill that proposes an OFW leave for spouses of overseas Filipino workers. There is yet another bill that proposes additional maternity leaves for women. Yes, am not kidding.

So yes, the business sector does have valid reasons to howl every single time our leaders declare non-working holidays. We do have more holidays compared to our neighbors; thus we should stop wondering why we continue to hit record lows in terms of competitiveness. But if it is any consolation, at least the dates of the holidays for 2012 were released very early so business organizations have time to fix their production schedules around it.

Although Proclamation 295 already specifies the dates of the holidays in 2012, there is reason to believe that some of the holidays may actually be moved to the nearest Monday. This is indicated by the fact that Proclamation 295 went out of its way to cite Republic Act 9492—the law which provides that holidays, except those which are religious in nature, can be moved to the nearest Monday unless otherwise modified by law, order, or proclamation.

If this happens, there may just be 11 long weekends in 2012.

The first will happen January 21-23 as January 23 has been declared non-working day (Chinese New Year). The weekend of April 5-9 will be a five-day long weekend (Holy Week and Araw Ng Kagitingan on April 9). April 28-May 1 might be a long weekend since Labor Day may be moved to April 30 assuming the labor sector does not raise a howl. June 12 may also be moved to June 11 producing another three-day weekend in June. August 18-21 may be another long weekend because of Eid’l Fitr and Ninoy Aquino Day. August 25-27 is a three-day weekend as August 27 is National Heroes Day. October 26-28 is another three-day long weekend courtesy of Eid’l Adha. November 1-4 is a four-day weekend since November 1 is All Saints Day and November 2 has already been declared as special holiday. November 30 to December 2 is another 3-day long weekend because of Bonifacio Day. And finally December 22-25 and December 29-January 1 will be four-day weekends.

I hope people will have the means to take advantage of the long weekends to travel.

Happy holidays, indeed!

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