Va­ca­tions with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics

China Daily (Canada) - - FRONT PAGE - By LI YANG in Bei­jing

liyang@chi­nadaily.com.cn

Con­gested traf­fic stretch­ing for miles has be­come a familiar fix­ture at the be­gin­ning and end of na­tional hol­i­days in China as fam­i­lies line up to en­ter and exit big cities. This has be­come the new nor­mal of va­ca­tions with Chi­nese char­ac­ter­is­tics.

Dur­ing the May Day hol­i­day from last Fri­day to Sun­day, nearly 1.4 mil­lion ve­hi­cles crossed Shang­hai’s bor­ders each day, up 8 per­cent year-on-year.

The traf­fic jams on all of the main ex­press­ways that connect the city with neigh­bor­ing Jiangsu, An­hui and Zhe­jiang prov­inces lasted for nearly 10 hours on Fri­day and Sun­day. The tail­backs stretched for up to 10 kilo­me­ters in all di­rec­tions. And the av­er­age ve­hi­cle speed was 30 to 60 km per hour on the high­ways, which have a max­i­mum speed limit of 120 km per hour, for the rest of the hol­i­day.

All of which means that mil­lions of peo­ple in Shang­hai rou­tinely waste hours of their hard-earned va­ca­tion time star­ing at the tail­lights of the car in front of them. This is es­pe­cially ironic in a city whose res­i­dents are fa­mous for man­ag­ing their time wisely.

It is the same case for all ma­jor cities in the coun­try.

In the 1990s, the gov­ern­ment cre­ated three so-called “golden weeks”, largely to boost con­sump­tion. Th­ese na­tional va­ca­tions ran for around seven days dur­ing the Spring Fes­ti­val in win­ter, around Na­tional Day in early Oc­to­ber, and around May Day.

How­ever, the rate of ur­ban­iza­tion in China has nearly dou­bled from then to about 54 per­cent now. More­over, pri­vate car own­er­ship has jumped 10-fold. As nearly half of all the ur­ban res­i­dents in big cities hail from the prov­inces, this cre­ates a recipe for dis­as­ter when ev­ery­one wants to head home.

Ex­cept for dur­ing na­tional hol­i­days, many peo­ple who work in pri­vate com­pa­nies do not en­joy paid va­ca­tions, so the temp­ta­tion to take the same days off as ev­ery­one else is great.

A study by Ts­inghua Uni­ver­sity last year showed that only about 30 per­cent of em­ploy­ees in China took a paid va­ca­tion last year.

But the vast ma­jor­ity of those polled pre­fer the greater flex­i­bil­ity that paid va­ca­tions af­ford vis-à-vis the crowded na­tional hol­i­days.

That the gov­ern­ment ex­empts high­way tolls for pas­sen­ger cars in the hol­i­days fur­ther ag­gra­vates traf­fic con­ges­tion. In truth, the pol­icy is a waste of both time and oil. Mil­lions of trucks, most of which are owned by lo­gis­tics com­pa­nies, are stranded for hours and hours on stretches of high­way just burning fumes as their en­gines idle.

If the gov­ern­ment wants to boost do­mes­tic con­sump­tion, it should no longer rely on such tac­tics.

Rather, it should im­prove the over­all con­sump­tion en­vi­ron­ment and strictly im­ple­ment la­bor laws that were first en­acted over two decades ago.

A re­port last year by Bei­jing Nor­mal Uni­ver­sity on China’s la­bor mar­ket in­di­cates that Chi­nese peo­ple work about 2,200 hours a year, much higher than in most other emerg­ing economies and de­vel­oped coun­tries.

Paid va­ca­tions are a legal right for work­ers — not tools sub­sidiary to the needs of the gov­ern­ment’s macro-eco­nomic poli­cies.

La­bor Day should be more than just a hol­i­day. It should be an im­por­tant oc­ca­sion for the coun­try to im­prove its la­bor sys­tem and de­liver the ap­pro­pri­ate benefits to those in need.

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