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Monday, 4 October 2010

The On/Off System

The matter of China's very complicated holiday schedule has been subject to much comment online recently, with the Peking Duck describing the whole system as a “complicated mess”. Essentially, it is being summed up as: one day off, three days on, three days off, six days on, seven days off, two days on, one day off. The weird layout of working and vacation days stems from the one week workers have off as part of the National Day celebrations, although they are required to work additional days in the preceding and succeeding weeks to make up for this (only three days are official holidays).

According to Chinese law, those who work during the holiday week (1st-7th October) are entitled to receive triple-time for statutory holidays, and double-time if they are working at the weekend. Recently, as reported by the China Daily, Beijing News conducted an online survey which found that over half of respondents had been required to work during the Mid-Autumn Festival and National Day holiday period, but the majority had not yet received the overtime pay they are entitled too. The poll also revealed that most people work on one or two holiday days, but some industries (for example transportation and catering) see their employees having much less time off.

It seems that many employers are not meeting the state's requirements on overtime pay as they should be. Some Chinese analysts put this fact down to a lack of harsh penalties for those who underpay their workers, and also highlighted the reluctance amongst individuals to resort to legal mechanisms to force the issue. The same Beijing News survey found that only a small percentage of those polled take the issue of overtime up with their managers, preferring instead to “slack off at work” in order to make a point.

While it is likely that some business are taking advantage of the general confusion over the holiday pattern to get away with not paying accorded overtime, the situation also probably involves an element of puzzlement amongst employers too. With some days officially time off, and some days worked in lieu around the same time of year, it is little wonder that people are struggling to keep track of the wages they have to pay/be paid for. The China Daily's coverage of the story hinted at the fact that most workers are not given evidence of the overtime they have worked, making it hard to claim for lost pay.

What really needs to happen though is for the government to simplify the bemusing holiday pattern, and clarify the laws on wages during these periods of official and non-official time off. If most people work one or two days in the week off for National Day, then shortening this period and reducing the extra time that needs to be worked before/after it might be a productive move. Certainly, an end to having to work additional times at weekends to make up for the week long vacation would be a popular move. However, there would also have to be some kind of compensation to those who work on the entire of the holiday period, as they will essentially lose out on overtime income. This consideration needs to be factored in to ensure that a simplification of the holidays system is both appropriate and fair. As popular discontent with the government's scheduling grows, Beijing will be thinking harder and harder about whether changes should be made.

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