Paid vacations can fix 'golden mess'

Paid vacations can fix 'golden mess'

CHINA - The Golden Week of the National Day holiday may witness another "golden mess" with crowded trains and scenic spots. Before the holiday, the national holiday office, which was in charge of deciding the dates of the national holidays, was upgraded to an intra-ministry organisation to promote the sound development of tourism.

The change was widely interpreted as signaling that the government aims to introduce paid leave. Only by implementing paid leave can the "golden messes" of the Spring Festival and National Day holidays be effectively eased.

Employees' right to enjoy paid vacation was written into law as early as in 1995. However, it was not until last year that the government showed its determination to properly carry out the practice through the announcement made by the State Council that a paid vacation system has to be implemented throughout the country by 2020. A lot of obstacles lie ahead of the full implementation of the practice.

On the part of employees, they face pressure from the employers if they ask for paid vacation. In a survey in 2008, 64 per cent of the respondents said that they didn't take paid leave because they were worried that their bosses may treat them unfavorably or even fire them.

A balance between work and leisure has yet to prevail in China. Many people work extremely hard at the expense of their health and their responsibilities to their families. They would rather have cash bonuses by working during the holidays rather than taking a vacation. Enterprises, meanwhile, don't want to burden themselves with paying employees on vacation. However, they should realise that prolonged work will damage their employees' health and ultimately harm their work efficiency.

The lack of supervision and punishment is another obstacle to the paid vacation system. Though the right to paid vacation has been written into law, there are few specific guidelines for its implementation. Enterprises that have deprived their employees of the right face no punishment, which has further encouraged them to keep breaking the law.

Since employees have little power to negotiate with the employers, the government needs to intervene to safeguard their legal rights. The central government needs to set specific goals for the popularizing of paid leave throughout the country in the work plan laid out by the State Council at the beginning of each year. Then governments at all levels will follow suit and include these goals into the performance evaluation of local officials, much like how GDP affects the promotion of local government officials.

Moreover, government officials, particularly national leaders, have to set an example by starting to take regular paid vacation themselves. Government and Party organs and State-owned enterprises that refuse to offer paid leave must pay their employees three times the normal salary.

Class action is recommended as the way for employees to pursue their rights should a dispute arise over paid vacation. The biggest advantage of class action is that only the chief plaintiff has to be directly involved throughout the legal process. Other employees, if they don't voice their opposition to the lawsuit, are automatically regarded as members of the plaintiff group. Once the indemnities have been decided by the court, each plaintiff will get his or her own share of the compensation. Class action will greatly reduce the complexity of lawsuits related to paid vacation as the lawyers only have to communicate with the chief plaintiff.

Another advantage of class action is that the lawyer can only charge the plaintiffs by winning the case. The fees entailed by the lawsuit are paid in advance by the chief plaintiff. Since the compensation paid for successful class action is usually quite large, lawyers will be willing to accept such cases though they are not paid immediately.

Lastly, the right to paid vacation should be written into the Labor Contract Law so that it will appear as a clear-cut independent term in the labour contracts. Once it is put down in words, the right to paid vacation cannot be easily dismissed by the employers.

The author is the director of the centre for political economy at Tshinghua University.

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