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EDITORIAL: Need to rethink public holidays


EDITORIAL: Need to rethink public holidays

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THE FALLOUT from having two public holidays within one week, as happened two weeks ago, was sure to reignite public discussion.

It is little surprise that the Barbados Employers’ Confederation wants a rethink of this situation, and some citizens clearly agree, given the impact on productivity and the economy.

This year Barbados observes 12 public holidays. When added to the 21 or 28 paid vacation days to which many people are entitled, plus a range of other benefits, the employers’ position is better understood. It is possible for some workers to be off for as many as two months in a calendar year.

The reality is that not even the most myopic interest group or strident investor can see public holidays only in purely economic terms. Our cultural traditions and national solidarity on public holidays are well established. But that does not mean this is not the ideal time to discuss and consider their place on the calendar.

Historically, our public holidays were tied to Christian events and occasions associated with the British colonial era. It was only when the workers struggled for their rights that occasions such as May Day became days of national importance. The recognition of Emancipation Day has since followed.

Politics also determines the scope of our public holidays. The death of National Hero The Right Excellent Errol Walton Barrow opened the door for the inclusion of a public holiday to mark his birthday by the Democratic Labour Party.

Not to be outdone, the birthday of another National Hero, The Right Excellent Sir Grantley Adams, was later proclaimed a public holiday by the Barbados Labour Party.

The initial support for either day, partisan and divided as they are, has clearly faded. As Barbadians age, fewer of us feel any personal connections to an era and leaders of yesteryear. There is no patriotic zeal to mark the birthdays of these two National Heroes. Neither do the celebrations ring the bells of lofty ideals. They have truly devolved into occasions of pure merriment and leisure.

The greatest hardships public holidays create, such as the recent two in the same week, will be on small businesses and the growing number of self-employed people who must either incur additional expenses or suffer loss of earnings. This is at a time when we are promoting entrepreneurship and self-employment as the way forward.

We do not believe that public holidays are anachronistic since there is much more to life than just work. That is why a balance must be struck between the needs of businesses and those of workers. But, there is clearly a need to rethink some of them to arrive at a better outcome for all. And, please, let us not turn public holidays into political footballs.