Half of employees in China don't take paid annual leave

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A recent survey found that nearly 50 per cent of employees do not take their paid annual leave, the paper.cn reported on Wednesday.

The survey, conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security in about 60 cities in the country, revealed that employees in private companies are less likely to take paid annual leave, compared with those working in government organisations, institutions and State-owned enterprises, along with foreign companies.

According to a regulation on paid annual leave which took effect in 2008, full-time employees who work consecutively more than one year should receive paid days off. The number of paid vacation varies with the tenure: employees who have worked more than a year but less than 10 years get 5 days annual leave; those who have worked between 10 and 20 years receive 10 days; and workers with more than 20 years are entitled to 15 days.

Even though most employees know they are entitled to paid annual leave, a quite number of workers choose not to take the days off either because there's no paid vacation system in the company or due to work pressure.

"The paid annual leave in my company is just 'empty talk', there's no vacations at all and no compensation of the unused days either," said Jian Xiaozi, a bank product manager.

What Jian said reflects widespread practice. Another survey by the Tourism Research Center at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, which was conducted among 2,552 employees nationwide, showed that around 40 per cent of the surveyed said they didn't have paid annual leave, while about 4 per cent were granted leave but had to cancel them. Only around 30 per cent of the surveyed said they were able to take the days off at their disposal.

In practice, employees are generally required to use up all their annual leave from the previous year before a specific deadline set by the company's internal rules. Their unused leave is not carried over to the next year and they are not entitled to any financial compensation.

"The expiration period of the paid annual leave is a 'monopoly clause' which infringes the workers' legitimate rights and it's illegal according to the law," said Liu Junhai, a professor of civil and commercial law at Renmin University of China.

According to the labour law, if employers waive their right to leave, they should get compensation of up to three times their normal daily wages for each day of unused annual leave, in addition to their regular daily wage.

So if employees volunteer not to take the leftover annual leaves, the employers usually require them to sign a written agreement, to avoid any possible future labour disputes.

"The written agreement doesn't reflect the employees' real wishes, but they sign it in order to save their job," said Liu.

Some employers even tell employees that their past working experience will not count and they can get paid annual leave only after working for one year in the current company.

According to Liu Simin, a researcher at Beijing Foreign Studies University, the poor supervision and light penalties are most responsible for this flouting of rules.

Law enforcement should use all available ways to curb this practice, he said.