Does Malaysia have too many public holidays?

Performers hold up flags during the 60th Merdeka Day (Independence Day) celebrations in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on Aug 31, 2017. Source: Reuters

BEING a multi-ethnic country with a 30 million population of different major religions and cultures, Malaysia has built a reputation as a country with among the most public holidays in the world.

And while the nation’s 14 million-strong work force rejoice over the paid off days, a major employer in the country says its people are having too much of a good thing: the costs run up to the billions with every single day of lost labor.

Lim Wee Chai, chairman of Top Glove Corp Berhad, the world’s largest latex glove manufacturer with dozens of factories in the country, says the government’s apparent generosity may have an adverse impact on productivity and efficiency.

“The estimated salary cost for one additional public holiday in Malaysia is about RM1.5 billion per day,” he said, as quoted by the New Straits Times on Monday.

“Unplanned or ad hoc public holiday is disruptive for business.”

Collectively, Malaysia’s 13 states and three federal territories have a total of 56 gazetted public holidays for the 2017 calendar year, of which 14 are observed at the national level. This has resulted in six long weekends.

Last week, Prime Minister Najib Razak granted Sept 4 as a public holiday owing to the national squad’s “tremendous” performance at the SEA Games, a biennial multi-sport event involving participants from the Southeast Asian region.

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Najib’s announcement added another day to a four-day weekend as Malaysia marked its 60th Independence Day on Aug 31 and the majority Muslims in the country celebrated Eid-al-Adha on Sept 1.

The number of paid off days often pose a headache to people like Lim, who employs over 11,000 workers mostly in Malaysia. However, he made suggestions on how the issue could be remedied.

One option, he said, was to allow employers to request employees to work on the holiday declared and compensate them by paying additional two days’ wages at the ordinary rate of pay, the NST reported.

He said employers could alternatively request employees to work on the holiday and inform them the holiday will be substituted on another day.

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“Wages for work on that day should be the normal rate, not public holiday rate,” Lim said,

According to Lim, the employer can substitute the holiday without its employees’ agreement and fix a replacement date, which is not necessarily the same for all employees.

And while businessmen like Lim tend to be irked by the idea of more and more public holidays, wage earners say it is a good “problem” to have.

Meanwhile, an economist said unscheduled holidays such as the Sept 4 public holiday would not have a major impact on businesses.

Free Malaysia Today quoted Lee Hwok-Aun, of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, as saying that while businesses may see interruptions in operations, the overall cost from a one-day disruption is “manageable”.

Lee said although some companies closed for the day, they would double up their production process later and possibly pay overtime.

“Or they’ll work on the impromptu holiday and pay overtime to eligible workers,” he was quoted as saying.