China / Society

Holiday traffic renews calls for paid leave

(Xinhua) Updated: 2015-10-09 19:39

BEIJING - After a pleasant trip to a nature reserve in Inner Mongolia, Meng Xuejing started driving back to Beijing on Monday morning, thinking about her supper at home.

Ten hours later, she was still on the road, exhausted and hungry. "The journey was supposed to take five to six hours," complained the 35-year-old accountant.

Meng's experience was far from the only tale of traffic woe among holiday-making families who set out by car during China's week-long National Day break, which ended on Wednesday. Pictures circulating on social media showed expressways basically transformed into parking lots.

Once again, Chinese fell foul of the fact that the country tends to indulge in tourism en masse during national holidays. Lack of paid annual leave makes it hard to travel at off-peak times of the year.

According to transport authorities, more than 740 million people, or half of China's population, traveled during the holiday, 640 million of them by road. Demand for travel is only going to rise, as the population becomes more affluent and mobile.

This was Meng's first long-distance trip in her first car, crammed with her parents, her husband and son. "When my parents were young, our family didn't have enough money to travel," she said. "So after I bought the car, I told them we would go to as many places as possible."

More than 300 million Chinese have driving licenses, making them the largest driver group in the world.

Highway tolls are waived for passenger vehicles during long holidays, but this is not the reason Meng chose to travel. "My husband and I were both free. He works at a law firm, and it is not easy for him to ask for paid leave," she explained.

Traffic jams are not the only result of the current holiday situation. Tourists converging on popular destinations all at once leads to safety risks and poor leisure experiences, admitted a China National Tourism Administration official.

Major attractions reported operating overcapacity during the holidays, with some of them getting twice as many tourists as they could officially accommodate.

A survey by online travel agency Ctrip earlier this year found 80 percent of tourists prefer off-peak travel. Officials and industry insiders generally agree that encouraging off-peak leave will not only increase spending on tourism but also ease congestion.

But it is easier said than done.

According to the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security, paid leave is implemented mostly in government and public institutions, state-owned enterprises and foreign companies, while smaller and private firms tend not to offer it. Eighty percent of the work force in China is thought to be employed in the private sector.

Nearly half of those not taking their full allocation of paid leave -- or any at all -- said they did so out of fear of "undermining career prospects by taking leave," suggested a report by the National Bureau of Statistics.

Prof. Zhu Lijia with the Chinese Academy of Governance said that although China has legislated to ensure paid leave, it is difficult to enforce the law. "Some enterprises facing fierce competition cancel paid leave outright," Zhu said. "On the other hand, employees usually waive the right for greater promotion prospects."

While the professor called for better enforcement of the Labor Law, Meng simply wants more compassion from employers. "They should take into consideration their employees' personal needs, allowing families to enjoy vacations together," she said. "Who wants to be restricted to traveling at peak times and getting stuck in traffic?"

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