China encourages ‘2.5 days off’ a week to boost domestic spending

An original version of this article appeared in Hong Kong Free Press on August 13, 2015:

China’s governing body has encouraged government units and enterprises to grant employees two and a half days off per week during the summer, in an effort to boost domestic spending in the country.

In a document released on Tuesday, the State Council said it recommended flexible work hours, adding that companies and government departments may improve working arrangements by “creating favourable conditions for employees to spend their holidays on Friday afternoon and the weekend.”

However, it added that “actual conditions” should be considered before companies endorse the new plan.

A shopping street in Guangzhou, China. Photo: Baidu.

State-run media outlet China News Service quoted an unnamed online survey in the mainland and claimed that over 80 percent of netizens believed the new policy was “feasible.”

However, many internet users raised doubts on Weibo, China’s microblogging site. One user ridiculed the recommendations as a “glorious and incredible dream,” adding that officials should first realise “two-day rests” for all employees working in private companies. Another accused the government of not understanding the problems facing most workers in the country.

Internet users raising concerns over the new recommendations on Weibo.

People’s Daily, the communist party’s official newspaper, ran an editorial on Wednesday, emphasising that the extra half-day break was not mandatory. It said companies that could not afford giving employees the extra time off may choose not to implement the policy.

As a result, netizens also expressed concerns that the “two and a half days off” policy might only benefit employees working in government departments, as small enterprises are unlikely to follow the recommendations. This may further increase welfare discrepancies between those employed in the public and private sectors.

Last week, People’s Daily also quoted the vice-chairman of China Association for Labour Studies that an extra half-day holiday plan would be “unachievable.” Making the comments before the announcement, he said the policy would “decrease 26 working days a year.” He said it was something that China could not afford at its existing economic level.

Vice-chairman of China Association for Labour Studies, So Hoi-nam. Photo: People’s Daily.

China’s State Council said the recommendations were intended for “boosting travel expenses and consumption,” with the aim of increasing the employment rate and income level in the country.

In 2014, China’s GDP increased by 7.4 percent compared with the previous year—the lowest in 24 years. The country’s president, Xi Jinping, subsequently described the Chinese economy as entering a “new normal.” He said China should focus on the sustainability of economic growth, rather than aiming to achieve rapid increases in GDP figures.

Chinese president Xi Jinping. Photo: Global Panorama, via Flickr.

In recent months, China’s stock market has plunged by more than 30 percent since the end of 2014. The Telegraph reported on Sunday that China’s exports have declined persistently—prompting the country to adopt measures to stimulate economic growth.

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