Fast and loose with holidays

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Fast and loose with holidays

The government is set to designate May 6 as a temporary holiday at the Cabinet meeting today. On Monday, the Korea Chamber of Commerce and Industry (KCCI) asked the government to consider the designation of a special holiday to help boost lackluster domestic demand. On the following day, President Park Geun-hye made it almost official by saying the government is positively considering the idea. If the idea comes true, Koreans can enjoy a four-day weekend from Thursday May 5, which is Children’s Day, to Sunday May 8.

The nation has so far had only three extra national holidays aside from provisional holidays for the sake of national mourning. The three special holidays were September 17, 1988, the opening day of the Seoul Olympics; July 1, 2002, which celebrated Korea’s advance to the World Cup semifinals; and August 14, 2015, a day before the 70th anniversary of Korea’s independence from Japanese colonial rule.

Those three extra holidays were worthy. The government’s latest move gives us the impression of “power abuse.” Of course, a measure aimed at revitalizing lethargic domestic demand after a paltry 0.4 percent growth in the first quarter is understandable. As the KCCI claims, taking another day off in May could trigger a bigger economic effect than on a hot and humid day in August. The government estimates that its decision to designate last August 14 as a special holiday sparked demand worth 1.31 trillion won ($1.14 billion) after the economy suffered from the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) outbreak. The measure led to soaring revenues, albeit temporarily, in the tourism, accommodation, restaurant, retail and transportation sectors, the government says.

But the government must avoid overly abrupt decisions. As happened last August, local companies are not prepared. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of all businesses cannot take such a hurried holiday off because it will cost them money. That leaves large companies and public institutions. Parents worry about the shutting down of kindergartens and daycare centers across the country, especially working couples.

If the government wants to maximize the effect of extraordinay holidays, local governments and companies must roll up their sleeves. In addition to temporary exemptions of highway tolls and fees to get into cultural heritage sites, they must create other benefits. Needless to say, the government must give notice to the public much in advance. That’s the government’s responsibility.

JoongAng Ilbo, Apr. 28, Page 34

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