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NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Public holidays not affecting productivity


PATRICK HOYOS

NOT ALL BLACK AND WHITE: Public holidays not affecting productivity

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FOR MANY EMPLOYEES, public holidays are just another day.

Last Sunday, with Foreday Morning and the soca competitions behind us, and Kadooment coming on the Monday, and a “day two” the next day, this newspaper’s front page featured a cry from the Barbados Employment Confederation’s (BEC) executive director, Tony Walcott, that there were just too many public holidays in Barbados.

And even though we only had two consecutive public holidays in August this year because Kadooment Day (always first Monday in August) fell on Emancipation Day (always August 1), it was enough to make the BEC say, “enough!” and drag out a report from two years ago about reducing them from 12 to ten.

If you want to put all the holidays except Christmas and Independence Day on a Monday or a Friday, that’s okay with me. I will enjoy seeing how you are going to make December 26 and January 1 regular working days, not to mention May Day. And if some political party wants to abolish two of them entirely, as the BEC apparently wants, I will certainly attend its political funeral.

Some people around here always throw in Singapore and other successful countries when advancing a point. So for the record, Singapore has 15 public holidays, and so does South Korea, which are, of course, two of the least productive countries in the world. Hong Kong and India have 17 each.

But it shows, in my view, ignorance of how people make their living in the service economy to equate our regular 12 public holidays with lack of productivity. In a country which has moved to the service industries to create jobs that used to be filled by manufacturing and sugar agriculture, the point is that most service providers work through these days anyway.

Hotels, fast food restaurants, service stations, and other tourism-related businesses, including retail stores when the cruise ships are in, and media companies, are among the businesses for whom a public holiday, with a few exceptions, is just another day.

The new Employment Rights Act simplifies the rostering of staff through most bank holidays and Sundays, a helpful nod to the move toward the service economy. The people who work on these days are paid double or triple time, and provide services to tourists and, increasingly, locals, who are often out and about on those days spending money in the economy on recreation, food and entertainment.

If you removed any of the public holidays you would reduce, not increase, overall productivity in the economy. It is the great Barbadian public, whether they are attending Crop Over, Bushy Park, the Garrison or Kensington Oval, sports and entertainment events, that provide the boost to the livelihoods of many local vendors, artisans and other service providers.

But how many, you say, might be in this so-called services sector?

The total average number of people in the labour force in 2015 has been put at 144 600. Of that total, says the GIS, “the wholesale and retail trade sector generated jobs for the largest number of persons, employing 20 200 persons, while the accommodation and food services sector employed 15 800 persons”.

In addition, it said, the “other groups sector,” which includes information and communications, activities of extraterritorial organisations and bodies, real estate, and the arts, entertainment and recreation industries, employed 7 600 persons.

On top of that, the “transportation and storage sector” employed 6 300 persons, while the “employment in the activities of households as employers sector” (didn’t even know there was one) stood at 5 100 persons.

So, adding it up, just those categories employed around 55 000 people, or over a third of the labour force. I wonder how any of them are rostered through public holidays? Quite a large percentage, I would guess.

And of course, there are many people, like your humble correspondent, for whom a public holiday may offer the chance to sleep in a bit, but if there are deadlines to meet . . . well, you already know my editors.

Patrick Hoyos is a journalist and publisher specialising in business. Email: [email protected]

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