Rise in overtime expected from holiday crunch

Updated: 2012-01-11 09:15

By Guo Nei (China Daily)

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BEIJING - Chinese workers expecting a relaxed month due to the high number of vacation days in January 2012 may be unpleasantly surprised by a heavier workload in the run-up to the Spring Festival holiday.

Though there are 14 days off in the month of January, including weekends, New Year's Day and Spring Festival, employees may need to work overtime throughout the 17 workdays to finish the whole month's assignments.

By shifting the weekend so that one day of time off is extended to a three-day holiday, Chinese people are off work from Jan 1 to Jan 3 to celebrate New Year's Day every year.

For the Spring Festival, or Chinese New Year in the lunar calendar, which is the most important traditional festival for the Chinese people, workers get seven days of vacation, including three days off and two weekends shifted. The one-week holiday starts the day before the festival.

Since it is determined according to the lunar calendar rather than Western calendars, Spring Festival can fall anywhere from late January to mid-February.

It comes especially early this year on Jan 23, which means the seven-day holiday will start on Jan 22, only 19 days after the New Year's Day holiday.

Of those 19 days, only 17 days are scheduled as workdays. But that does not mean that an employee's workload will shrink accordingly.

On the first workday after her lovely New Year's Day holiday, Zhao Qian was up to her neck sorting piles of invoices and bills to balance her company's accounts for the last month. The 24-year-old accountant in an advertising agency in Beijing worked until 8:30 pm - three hours past when her shift was set to end.

Zhao said she is expecting more overtime will be required in the next two weeks to add up year-end bonuses and work out financial reports and tax documents. The reports and documents are due around Jan 15 to Jan 22 every year, and the bonuses need to be sent to employees before Spring Festival.

"We accountants are busy in the month before Spring Festival. An early Spring Festival means an early deadline. I'm under great pressure and 'voluntarily' work overtime," Zhao said.

When the prospect of long working hours appeared in the first month of 2012, many employees began joking that they may pocket a considerable amount of overtime pay. However, if overtime work is deemed voluntary, workers are not eligible for the pay.

According to Liu Haobin, director of Beijng Uniontop Law Firm, it is a common practice among companies in China that if employees want to get overtime pay, they will need to get the approval of a superior.

"The procedures are necessary because it's unfair to the employers if their employees get paid overtime subsidies while the employees just stay in the office playing, say, computer games," Liu said.

Kristy, a 24-year-old market analyst at a foreign company based in Guangzhou who prefers her English name to be quoted, planned to give up her New Year's Day holiday to work at home.

"It's a pity that I didn't make it work because I got sick during the holiday," she said.

Other departments in Kristy's company have to work out plans for 2012 before Spring Festival, and they keep urging her to hand in market analysis.

"I'm motivated to voluntarily work overtime, seeing a long holiday for Spring Festival ahead," said Kristy. "But I have to admit that the quality of my work is likely to suffer from limited time."

Kristy revealed that her colleagues in the US headquarters are also suffering from the holiday arrangement in China, which mixes holidays of solar and lunar calendars: Their mainland counterparts will be out of pocket for 14 days in January this year.

Gu Jun, a sociology professor at Shanghai University, is among those who feel Spring Festival should be fixed on a specific day according to the solar calendar.

Gu raised many examples of headaches that stem from the lack of a fixed date for Spring Festival.

Schools have to adjust curriculum according to the changing lengths of the autumn semester, which ends before Spring Festival.

Also, it is a problem for factories engaged in international trade, which have to change their plan for production every year. This January, they need to push employees to work overtime or they will not be able to meet orders from overseas for half of the month.

Gu suggested that Spring Festival be fixed on li chun, the first of the 24 divisions of the solar year.

"Li chun is Feb 4 every year. It means the beginning of spring, which is in line with the name of Spring Festival," Gu said.