22 April, 2014

Get rid of public holidays

Along comes another public holiday, and with it, as in every year in recent memory, the perennial debate arises regarding shopping and other commercial activities on certain public holidays (assuming you’re in a part of the world where they are prohibited). The pro-restriction lobby always trots out the same pieties against crass commercialism and abuse of workers’ rights: it’s one day families can all rely on to get together, it’s a mark of respect to our religious and cultural heritage, it’s one day that sporting and cultural festival organisers can rely on (attracting crowds they otherwise wouldn’t get). That’s fine for those people who want to put aside those particular days for the things they want to do; but why should everyone else be captive to their demands, especially when the vast majority actually take no part in the special events on those holidays?

I have a radical alternative which I reckon should appeal to nearly everyone (other than the would-be regulators of my life) once they give it some thought. Get rid of public holidays altogether, and in return increase annual leave entitlements by the same number of days. Say you currently get 20 days annual leave and 10 public holidays; instead you’d get 30 days annual leave, to take whenever you like.

To cater for the people who want to fix certain dates for religious or cultural activities, you could allow them to nominate up to, say, 5 days a year where they can definitely take time off (i.e. the employer has no choice). To avoid gaming, once nominated those days MUST be taken, unless the employer and employee otherwise both agree. Of course you’d have to allow for essential services, but I’d keep it a very short list.

Families and friends could organise get-togethers when it suited them - and avoid the peak fares and traffic jams of the most popular days. Most people would still take fixed days off for some major festivals.  Small firms could still implement mid-winter and mid-summer close-downs where everyone takes a break together. The economy, businesses and consumers would effectively gain several days trading a year.  Oh, and by the way, no-one is forced to go shopping on any day, let alone a public holiday.

In a nutshell, ordinary workers would be free to take more days off when they and their employer agree, not when someone else outside the relationship says they should. Just think:
  • 20 days annual leave plus the odd day when some bigwig says you must; or
  • 30 days annual leave when you want.
I’d bet that most people and businesses would prefer the latter. And think of the administrative simplicity. Unfortunately, too many vested interests love the petty power, anti-competitiveness and big-noting associated with public holidays.

First published 21 March 2008.  I'll keep republishing this until the idea gains political traction.


Mike Riversdale said...

Hmm, I might like this idea ... definitely food for thought and the start of a conversation

Tom Young said...

Well Jim – no and yes.

I think there are good ‘nationalistic’ reasons for having a limited number of common holidays. I would suggest Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Anzac Day, Waitangi Day. I am happy to accept that they should not be “Mondayised” and that you would have an increased leave allocation less any statutory days which fell during your normal work week. I dislike intensely the current move to Mondayise Waitangi Day and Anzac Day – am I the only on in the country who can remember that Norm Kirk introduced Waitangi Day expressly with the provision it was a holiday that should not be Mondayised?

I don’t buy the notion that because holidays are religiously based that they should not be observed by the country. Like it or not we are still a Christian country in heritage and in morality. Despite your outfits name I am glad we are not Is(l)amic and equally glad we do not seem to have the fundamentalist underpinning that is part of the USA. Agree though that people can nominate additional holidays to suit their other religions. By getting rid of the 4 ‘minor’ current statutory holidays it provides the space for this to happen, although see my comments below about the unequal bargaining power of employers and employees and often other religions will be new or illegal immigrants in a very weak bargaining position.

I also strongly support that there should be days when business is not transacted in the country. I do not think that 24 hour, 7 day a week shopping is healthy for the country or the well-being of its citizens. This of course isn’t really addressed by statutory holidays (they are too few to make a difference) but it does mean we have the odd time when all the country (save those on essential services) have to take time out.

You roll out the good old get rid of restrictions chestnut. All societies have restrictions Jim and the argument is simply about where these should start and end and whether or not they are unjustified. I am afraid you cannot just leave it to negotiation between the employer and employee. I have seen too many employees who are in a weak position taken advantage of over the years by employers so there need to be some minimum restrictions in place. It’s what these are that the debate has to be around.

Jim Donovan said...

When first published, this article attracted an editorial in The Independent Financial Review:

"Now, here’s a thought. Jim Donovan proposes we do away with public holidays altogether. There are 10 statutory holidays, and these 10 days would be added to worker’s annual leave entitlement - 20 days, in most cases. At present, when employees want to take annual leave, it must be agreed in advance with their employer.

The new legislation would specify a certain number of days - Donovan suggests five - which the employee can nominate in advance, and which the employer is required to grant. To prevent gaming behaviour, those days once nominated would have to be taken off, unless the employer agreed otherwise.

One advantage, says Donovan, is the economy, businesses and consumers would gain several trading days a year. Another is employees would gain more days they could take off when it suited them, rather than when the calendar mandates they must. So families could organise reunions at a time when peak fares and holiday traffic were no hindrance.

Of course, there are issues. Donovan points out there would have to be exemptions for essential services, but says he’d keep the list short. In an economy made up of small businesses, some would have problems covering for key staff taking certain days off as by right. Some might not be able to open at all. But there would be fewer of these days than are lost at present through mandatory closing.

And some will argue, as they do now, the spiritual significance of Easter and Christmas would be diminished if those days were simply trading days like any other. But the force of this argument is dissipating as the population becomes more multicultural, and secular. Those who celebrate Christmas as a religious day, or as a secular holiday, could simply specify it as one of their mandatory days off. What’s more, as blogger David Farrar points out, Donovan’s regime would be far more friendly to adherents of religions other than Christianity. Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, etc, would be able to specify their own religious holidays as mandatory days off.

It’ll be interesting to see how the Council of Trade Unions reacts to the idea. It presumably will embrace with open arms a concept that would deliver greater output and more freedom."