By Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President
An online ranking of countries with the most holidays places the Philippines No. 3 with 18 official holidays, tied with Colombia. The number one spot, according to the list, goes to Sri Lanka with 25 public holidays, followed by India with 21.
But our 18 official holidays is just a minimum. We have additional holidays declared by way of official proclamations, among them localized holidays usually coinciding with the founding of a town, city or province. And let’s not forget work suspensions during typhoons.
And more public holidays are in the works.
According to a paper from the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (ECOP), a total of 72 bills are now pending before a House committee seeking to declare special holidays in the whole Eastern Visayas, 25 provinces, 14 cities and 19 municipalities.
Of the 72 proposed local holidays, only four are working holidays while the rest, 68, are non-working holidays. If these bills become law, each of the covered local governments will have one additional non-working holiday, except for Albay which will have four more non-working days.
I am tempted to ask if “holiday economics” as an economic strategy has made a comeback.
The idea behind “holiday economics” – where holiday celebrations are moved to the nearest Monday resulting in long weekends – was to encourage workers to visit local tourist spots. It was a way to promote domestic tourism. Subsequent studies, however, tend to show that the policy had little impact, and even adversely affected some sectors.
The previous administration dispensed with “holiday economics” and fixed the number of official holidays in a year.
But it seems we now have more holidays to look forward to, much to the discomfiture of employers and economists who have warned time and again about the negative impact of too many public holidays on productivity, the cost of business and wages.
Employers agree that additional non-working holidays, whether national or local, benefit some businesses, namely those “engaged in the sale of meals and snacks, groceries and other commodities.”
On the other hand, when workers are required to report for work during non-working holidays, particularly in the manufacturing and service sectors, it translates to higher operating costs.
On regular holidays, the employer is obliged to pay workers a total of 200 percent of their regular pay. For special non-working holidays, employers pay an additional 30 percent of the daily rate for the first eight hours of work. This would definitely have an adverse impact on micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs).
But it’s not only employers on the losing end. Too many holidays also affect workers, primarily daily-paid workers in the private sector who stand to lose a day’s worth of wages for every additional holiday under the policy of “no work, no pay.” This results in lower take home pay.
“For monthly paid workers, too many holidays would not only result in a decrease in their productivity but also in the cost of doing business,” an employers’ group said in a position paper to Congress.
Even the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) has said too many holidays negatively impact on productivity, competitiveness and wages.
In 2012, the DOLE’s Institute of Labor Studies (ILS) released a study on the adverse effects of “holiday economics” on small businesses, while another agency, the Bureau of Working Conditions (BWC) said increasing the number of special non-working holidays affect workers because of the “no work, no pay” policy.
Both the ILS and the BWC agreed that the increase in labor cost “is both artificial and inefficient for employers because it is not accompanied by an increase in productivity.”
I wonder if the DOLE still maintains its opposition to “holiday economics.”
These holiday bills pending in Congress commemorate significant local events or pay tribute to the achievements of local personalities. It is but right that we take time for tributes and commemorations, but we should seriously consider that excessive holidays, particularly non-working holidays, also have its economic downside.
Frequent holidays, of course, are popular and highly anticipated calendar dates. Netizens are even asked by online sites to plan their holidays early each time government releases the list of public holidays for the year.
However, such populist moves tend to undermine whatever economic gains we have achieved. In the end, the workers suffer more.