Should Chinese Firms Allow Employees to Take Leave Outside of Public Holidays?

Should Chinese Firms Allow Employees to Take Leave Outside of Public Holidays?
Feb 12, 2019 By Jessica A. Larson-Wang ,

As anyone working in China knows, the public holidays here come in clumps. We get Spring Festival in January or February, a Golden Week in October and a bunch of odd days in between. Some problems inevitably crop up when an entire country of 1.3 billion people all take a holiday at exactly the same time, but is there really a better solution?

Photo: Charlie fong

One long weekend surrounding May Day, I made the mistake of braving Beijing train station in the hope of taking an impromptu trip to Beidaihe, a seaside resort a few hours from the city. Of course, about 200,000 of my closest friends also had the same idea.

Due to our lack of planning and foresight, my husband, 18-month-old son and I found ourselves left with standing-only tickets for a train departing four hours later than we had hoped. When we tried to board the train we found that the standing-only tickets had clearly been sold until there was absolutely no possible way for any more people to fit onboard the train, and then they sold a few more.

Not only was the train packed, but there was no air conditioning. I bravely stepped on, only to find myself shoved, squeezed and stepped on like never before, and my husband and son hadn’t even boarded yet. In the end we forfeited our tickets, gave up on the dream of Beidaihe and vowed never again to visit Beijing train station during anything even remotely resembling a public holiday. Lesson learnt.

What we experienced that day is very typical, as anyone living in China for more than 10 minutes could probably tell you. Train tickets during public holidays sell out months in advance, and travelling on those days is a special kind of hell. But what can you do when you can only take holidays at the same time as everyone else?

Golden Week was originally created to stimulate the economy by getting people out of the office and spending their hard-earned Maos in tourist destinations across the country. As a result, prices skyrocket during Golden Week and other major holidays.

My family was once looking to visit Hainan over Spring Festival and found that hotel prices were up by more than 100 percent in some cases. Food, transport, entertainment and everything else is also more expensive during public holidays, making them absolutely the worst time to travel.

These undeniable hassles have led some to propose that China should simply require companies by law to offer a certain amount of holidays per year to employees and not specify when those holidays should be taken. As good an idea as this is, I am sure that, as with many things in this country, the enforceability of such a law would pose problems.

It’s relatively easy for companies to be held accountable for providing their employees with collective public holidays, but harder to ensure workers take the time off they’re entitled when the dates are not set in stone. In America, which has such a system, many people end up not taking their vacation days because they “can’t afford to miss work” or are afraid of making a bad impression on the boss. China, with its sadistic work ethic, would no doubt see the same situation, tenfold.

Also, while the effects of collective public holidays on the Chinese economy are clear, it's hard to say if individual holidays would stimulate the national coffers in a similar way. As prices couldn’t be hiked the whole time, I expected they wouldn’t. Good for the workers; bad for the country as a whole.

So what can be done to alleviate the congestion surrounding China’s major public holidays and to ensure vacation days are given and taken when they should be?

I don’t have the answer, but perhaps you do. Enlighten me in the comments section  below!

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Keywords: Working in China China public holidays


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Look, if you’re going to pass a LAW that says workers get holidays that can be used at their discretion, you can just as easily pass the law to say that workers MUST use the days each year. This would solve your concern that employees won’t use them for fear of suffering some kind of punishment of some sort for actually using their holidays. This is China. The government can do whatever they want. Regarding your interesting economic theory that such a system wouldn’t be as good for the economy because then prices wouldn’t double during peak times, that’s a fascinating idea but would probably be offset by the people such as yourself who would travel and spend those “Maos” when they otherwise wouldn’t have (because they previously stayed home and avoided the traffic during peak times). In addition, the prices of hotels double, but the prices of food and clothing and other items don’t correct? So, if people spent less money on hotels, they’d almost certainly stimulate the economy by spending that saved money on other things. So, as much as I prefer China over the US, the American system of flexible holidays is way more convenient. And they don’t have anywhere near a billion people. The problem is that the culture here is too top down. Companies prefer everyone be working at the same time and certain people like to be able to tell the whole country when to take a holiday.

Feb 13, 2019 00:53 Report Abuse