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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

Too many holidays in Malaysia?

Are workers getting too many holidays?

Question Time By P. GUNASEGARAM

Instead of griping about days off, employers should focus on improving productivity – and benefits.

Click on graphic for larger view.

ASK any person who employs other people and they will say their workers get too many days off and public holidays. Ask the workers and their answers will be exactly the opposite.

That was the scenario played out recently when employers and their associations clamoured for less public holidays while workers and their representatives demurred strongly.

Objectively, it is simply too much to expect public holidays to be reduced, especially when many private sector employers are remiss when it comes to giving workers decent pay and benefits, including leave. A few examples will illustrate this well.

Take the five-day working week. The Government has adopted this for some years now but there are many firms in Malaysia, particularly those which are Malaysian-owned, which do not practise this.

This is despite the fact that it is easy to make up the hours for a Saturday half day by working just half an hour to 45 minutes more on the other working days.

Why many private firms continue to do this when they can so easily make up for the hours lost is a mystery and just shows plain unwillingness to grant workers better benefits even when it costs the company nothing.

The number of public holidays in Malaysia is about 18, not counting state holidays which may account for one or two more. But those who don’t work a five-day week work 26 days more in a year.

The Government should just mandate a five-day week for everyone like it is done in many other countries.

Next, guess who is opposing vehemently a current proposal to raise the retirement age to 60 and which may be legislated this year if all goes well. Yes, private sector employers.

The life expectancy over the last half century has increased by over 20 years to 75 but the retirement age still stays at 55.

Many countries already have a retirement age of 65 and some don’t even have a retirement age and here we are baulking because of employer opposition.

Why is the private sector behaving like that? It wants to get rid of staff and get new ones at lower pay or retain the old ones on yearly contracts and with reduced benefits, saving costs.

The broader interest will be served by increasing the retirement age so that the useful lives of all citizens can be extended, they are better able to take care of their needs in older age and their accumulated knowledge and expertise used.

If we look at the way employers treat foreign workers, it is appalling to say the least.

The construction industry, for instance, is almost entirely dependent on foreign workers. Often they are paid a daily rate and they get no pay when there is no work. Is that any way to treat a worker?

Imagine how much the wages for local labour is depressed because of the cheap availability of foreign labour, often illegal.

For a long time, even local plantation workers never got a monthly salary, only being paid when they went out to work. They were forced to take lower salaries when prices of rubber and palm oil dipped but had little benefit when prices rose. They remained abjectly poor despite the manyfold increase in commodity prices over the years.

If you ever wondered why our currency is weak – and therefore we pay high prices for all manner of products with imported content – look again at export manufacturers and how they lobby strongly to keep their costs down, including asking the Government to keep the currency at “competitive levels” and encourage cheap imported labour.

It seems like the rest of us have to keep on subsidising the exporters through a weak currency and lower wages so that they can make money.

The question is why can’t the employers raise productivity so that everyone can contribute and earn more and thereby do their bit towards becoming a high-income nation and making all our lives, instead of a few, better.

If management thinks 10 days of annual leave is too much for workers, ask how much top management gets – the norm is 30 days, but of course they will argue that they work all the time. Anyway, don’t some workers too?

Any which way you look at it, Malaysian employers are mollycoddled. They want wages to be low, the currency to be weak, employees to take less leave, imported cheap labour to be plentiful, the retirement age to be low and workers to work long hours.

But they do very little to be more productive – spend a bit more in terms of training and equipment to produce more with less and in less time.

Germany is moving to a four-and-a-half-day week, France has a seven-hour work day, Australians value their leisure as do many others. How come they are all so much more productive than Malaysia?

And, finally, the most ironic part. Many workers actually employ people – yes, maids.

And what do a good proportion of them think when it comes to their own servants. No leave! They will get into mischief if they get out of the house. And so one strata of society exploits the next and the next the ones below and it goes all the way down to the lowest economic strata.

No wonder there’s such a scramble to get to the top and do all the exploiting!

If only everybody thought of others as themselves and focused on giving decent wages for good work done and not making enormous profits at somebody else’s expense, we all can have a good life together.

Ever wonder why developed countries are developed and everyone who wants to work has a place under the sun and moral values – in its true sense – are much higher in these places?

> P. Gunasegaram enjoys his holiday as much as the next person and wishes there were more of them even if he knows there is a limit to it.

Employers to feel the brunt with workers taking long festive breaks

By P. ARUNA and ISABELLE LAI  Jan 5, 2012

 PETALING JAYA: The year-end holiday season may be over worldwide but not in Malaysia where the festive mood continues as a second wave of public holidays looms.

Employers are bracing for a hit in productivity as huge numbers of workers are expected to take long breaks in January and February.

Malaysians enjoy over 50 national, school and state holidays a year and ranks in the top 10 countries with the most public holidays. This is apart from the minimum of 14 days of annual leave a worker is entitled to.

Worse for employers this year, various state and national holidays come on the heels of Chinese New Year, which falls on Jan 23.

These include Federal Territory Day (Feb 1), Prophet Muhammad's birthday (Feb 5) and Thaipusam (Feb 7).

Also, it is a common practice among Malaysian workers to take their annual leave, before and after a festival, to enjoy an even longer break.

Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers small and medium industries committee chairman Tan Sri Soong Siew Hoong said the many public holidays affect the ability to remain competitive in business and “make employers cry”.

“I think there are too many paid public holidays for the private sector. And yet various sectors still want to lobby for more holidays,” he said.

Soong also expressed his unhappiness that public holidays were brought forward to weekdays if they fell on weekends, deeming this unnecessary.

He suggested that religious holidays be declared a personal choice so employees could celebrate on their own while colleagues of other faiths work as usual.

Malaysian Employers Federation executive director Shamsuddin Bardan said productivity would be affected during the holiday period with working days in between.

He said companies would not be able to operate at optimum levels as many workers would be taking leave.

“The alternative is for them to declare a shutdown through the whole period as the overhead costs will be very high. If they can't stop work, then they have to absorb the impact,” he added.

Shamsuddin said the Special Task Force to Facilitate Business had suggested that MEF and the Malaysian Trades Union Congress come up with a formula for employers to “buy back” annual leave days, adding that discussions were ongoing.

Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia economic research committee chairman Kerk Loong Sing said the large number of public holidays would “naturally result” in higher production costs.

“Of course, too many holidays are bad. It will affect productivity, especially for industries which cannot afford to stop production. Employers also need to pay higher wages during public holidays,” he said.

However, MTUC vice-president Mohd Roszali Majid strongly disagreed that the number of public holidays be trimmed down as “employees deserve their holidays”.

“It doesn't affect productivity because they can work on public holidays if they want to. Employers can also convert their unused annual leave to cash and increase their income,” he said.

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