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Only the private sector can make this monthly holiday productive
Poya holidays are a pain in the business world and their unpredictability makes it difficult to plan around
LBR,Monday 12 September 2011

By Chanuka Wattegama

Sometime ago, while working for government, I received perhaps the most bizarre query I have encountered: Is there a formula that predicts ‘poya days’ (a holiday in Sri Lanka) for the next ten years?

It was from an international software firm that planned introducing a global desktop calendar for the coming ten years. It might have looked a great idea till they found out about this strange, unpredictable and uniquely Lankan holiday.

A complex formula exists, but I didn’t know then. The lunar month is approximately 29.53 days, so the time between two full moons can be either 29 or 30 days. There is no straightforward manner deciding which. Without a Sri Lankan calendar, an outsider is helpless in finding out whether a certain weekday is a holiday or not.

With due respect to religious beliefs let’s admit it. Poya holidays are a pain in the business world. The exceptionally high number of holidays will come surely within the top ten factors that make Sri Lanka unproductive and less attractive to investors. Above is just one way how they make our lives complex. The sheer unpredictability makes it impossible to plan a future event without looking at the calendar. Just avoiding a poya day too, is not enough. If it falls on a Thursday better not plan your event on Friday too. If it falls on a Wednesday you just can’t schedule a three day training course in the entire week.

The issue is not just loss of productive time. A poya day on a Tuesday/Thursday is a nightmare for managers, especially if they handle operations. Which employee wants to miss such opportunity? Take a leave for a day to enjoy a nice four day long weekend. Now, think about the poor manager who struggles with a skeleton staff. The ultimate sufferer is the customer: Sorry we haven’t repaired your TV yet. Is early next week too late?

Is this what Gautama Buddha expected from us? Aren’t we insulting the enlightened one who worked on 20 hours every day (reportedly he slept less than 4 hours a day) by wasting a day each month on his name, that too on top of four weekends and minimum two paid holidays?

I fully endorse the religious/ideological freedom. Everyone should be allowed to follow the religion/ideology of his/her choice. Still religion is a private matter. Individuals should bear the cost of taking a day off for religious observances. Paid leave doesn’t make any sense.

Then, who truly needs such a holiday? Do we see millions of Buddhists in the workforce flock to temples for full day programs? No. Those who observe ata-sil on poya days mostly are retirees. For most it is just another rest day.

A world without a monthly mandatory poya holiday, perhaps with the exception of Vesak and Poson, will surely make the businesses more productive and the country more developed. It reduces the number of annual public holidays; makes planning easier and does not frustrate a tourist who suddenly finds the shops are closed. Alcohol and meats are the only commodities officially not available on poya days, but practically most businesses come to a standstill.

Theoretically, just one amendment to an act can change this, but that’s something that will not come easily. No sane politician will bell the cat. Taking away the poya holidays will be seen anti-religious. Religion is literally the sacred cow the politicians dare not touch. It would be too naïve to expect any change in the official stance. Certainly not in the foreseeable future.

There is only one way out. The solution should come from the private sector. I do not advocate adopting strict measures. A flexible policy is the best. Some private enterprises already keep their businesses open on poya days (eg super markets, some shops). Let others follow. Do not let down your customers. Make it a working day in offices and factories. Don’t insist on anybody’s presence. Incentivize the voluntary workers. If that can be done, it will be a matter of time the government has to follow. Let’s not make the country unproductive in the name of the religion.

Comments in Chronological Order. Total 4 Comment(s)

2011-09-12 7:47 PM

This is one area the private sector has no choice but to take all stakeholders into confidence and execute a fact laden rational plan. Don’t run to the politicians because they are politicians. The move is suicidal for them to say the least. The private sector of Sri Lanka is vibrant, intelligent and creative and they surely have the capacity and ability to overcome this quandary and bring about a satisfactory outcome.
Shaik Ahamath
2011-09-13 3:29 PM

I agree with Chanuka Wattegama. The sheer unpredictability of the Poya Day is the problem especially to the overseas clients of Sri Lanka. The answer is one of two or both. Even in the birthplace of the Church of England, Sunday opening of businesses is no longer a sacrilege. We too should allow businesses to stay open if they can garner their employees. Next, if a holiday is what they crave, why not make it E.g. the first Monday after the Poya Day which then gives people a long weekend and also diminishes the disruption as the holday could be predicted with some certainty.
2011-09-13 4:08 PM

You may think you are great in thinking of reducing holidays by working on poya days, but do you know so called planned holiday countries have more annual leave for people to go on holiday than ours? please know the facts before posting articles. just by critisizing SL is not going to take you anywere. SL leave number is arrived at after planning for 10 poya days which are falling on weekdays. So people who know feels sorry about your knowledge. I agree that working people are not using that fully to stay in the temple but the holiday count is not for that. It is already balanced with total time off for SL.
2011-09-15 5:09 AM

The best option is to plan the holiday calendar in advance so that events you said can be scheduled accordingly. It is very true that planned holiday countries have much more annual leave and other leave options than Sri Lanka (Annual leave Jury Duty, Maternity leave, Parental leave, Study leave, Work from home etc). Do you think our private sector is very advanced in planning for 10 years? Can’t they tolerate a single poya holiday in a month? I think, there are so many things that can be done to increase productivity than removing poya holidays. I agree working people are not using the poya day for its purpose. It is not a big problem. In modern practice, employees are given break in their work in order to increase their productivity. When they spend a day with loved ones at home or, in a picnic, that will naturally increase their logical thinking power, creativity etc - ultimately he will perform a better job at work. I don’t know why you haven’t read on those before just vomiting these old fashion ideas.
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