Holidays and work culture
It may irk some but it is hard to deny that there is a cost attached to man hours lost during holidays that tend to be too many.
The five-day shut down last week is said to be a luxury that a struggling economy can ill-afford. People enjoyed a long weekend from November 5th to 10th on account of Eid and Iqbal Day.
Many people, however, tend to extend such holidays at will with little regard to its impact on their personal, firm’s and the national productivity.
One explanation for longer than granted absence in Karachi and Islamabad could be the composition of dwellers in the two cities.
A sizeable percentage of the population in these two cities is that of local immigrants. In Islamabad, most government employees are posted for a limited period and prefer not to make the city their permanent abode. They tend to head home whenever they can.
In Karachi, apart from a vast majority of Urdu-speaking community, other ethnic groups have links to the ancestral homes and like to spend vacations in their home towns/villages. Unskilled labour in the megapolis predominantly hails from less developed lower Punjab and northern tribal regions. Many prefer to go back to their extended families on religious festivals.
For all such vacationers returning back just two days before weekend is difficult. For all practical purposes, therefore, the normal working is only likely be restored today. So the economic activity actually remain suspended for nine days for a five-day official holiday.
The work ethic in general, with the exception of efficient private organisations, is believed to be a way below the mark as reflected in the low productivity numbers in the country with an abundant manpower. What is intriguing is the fact that the trend of holidaying is popular not just amongst the regular employees paid for vacations but also the casual workforce who suffers from pay losses by missing the working days.
Trades such as construction, tailoring, etc that depend on casual workforce complain of late return of workers even after long holidays. Besides, petty businessmen and retailers also seem not too enthusiastic to return to work.
The tendency, however, seems to be more pronounced in the public sector and workers living away from families in urban slums.
People contacted by Dawn to solicit their views on the issue were mostly critical of the tendency of applying brakes to the economic cycle to celebrate, to renew family ties, to mourn or to protest.
“The negative rate of capital formation, flat investment rate and low productivity are not accidental. The sorry state of the economy is, to a great extent, result of poor governance and total disregard for the value of work and efficiency that leads to underutilisation of the available resources,” said a business leader.
“This is unforgivable. We have highest number of public holidays that impacts on the economy. The country is already left behind and needs to work extra hours to catch up with neighbours. The authorities, however, do not seem to care. They are callous,” Khalid Mirza who made a name for being an efficient independent regulator said in disgust from London. Mirza created ripples in the stock exchanges. He was also chairman of the Competition Commission of Pakistan.
A successful businessman who held top economic slot for a short span felt that the issue of bad time management and inefficiency were the hallmark of public sector entities. “The private sector is better managed because of defined responsibilities and accountability. To me, this is an issue of poor governance practices that ultimately reflect in a less competitive economy.”
“As for petty traders and retailers, I believe in absence of weak tax administration and price monitoring mechanisms, these beetle leaf sellers, ‘thele walas’—people selling perishables on push carts, etc. —— make extra profit through overpricing pre-Eid items to cover for their long vacations,” he added over phone.
“My team and I worked during the holidays to suit the demands of our business. Yes, labour from my construction project has gone home and I am not expecting them before Monday. Yes, the work has been suspended but we accounted for it. After all, these hard working people also deserve to celebrate Eid with their loved ones. They see their families just twice a year on two Eids”, Gohar Eijaz, former chairman All Pakistan Textile Mills Association, told this scribe from Lahore over telephone.
“However, my textile manufacturing unit did not stop at all, not even on Eid day. My textile workers live in labour colony and I pay thrice their normal wage rate on a holiday so they work happily and take leave, turn by turn, in batches,” Eijaz said..
“I cannot overstate the damage that it does to the economy. This inordinate number of holidays bunched together affects the national productivity and global competitiveness.”
“While other countries typically work for 11 and a half months of the year, Pakistan works for only 10. The majority in the public sector, be it a babu, a teacher, a professor or a doctor in government hospital or an employee of PSM, Railways, PIA etc., pretend more than they work while marking their presence,” said a frustrated analyst who heads research department of a bank.
Commenting on the current Eid holidays he said: “Three days before the leave, nobody pays attention to work, and three days after everyone has a hangover.
“How the hell we can even imagine to achieve progress if we as a nation promote laziness and take pride in not working?”