By Maryam Qarehgozlou

Redefining public holidays, weekends: how efficient is that?

January 6, 2018

The notion of “too many public and unofficial holidays” in Iran has always been a matter of controversy among lawmakers and decision making bodies in the country but despite all the arguments no decisive action has been actually taken so far.

Iran uses three calendars systems of solar hijri (the main national calendar), lunar hijri (for Islamic holidays) and Georgian (for international and Christian holidays). Most of the public holidays in Iran pertain to lunar and solar calendars. 

In general, Iran has 22 public holidays including the new year (also called Noruz), the martyrdom or birthday of some Shia Imams and prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and other religious celebrations, as well as national observances such as the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution which amounts to 26 days.

Friday is the official weekend in Iran while many offices and even banks are open on Thursdays till noon, however, schools are closed both on Thursdays and Fridays. In other words, unlike European, American and even Arab countries the official weekend in Iran is only one day.

Altering weekend holidays

Discussions over a bill to redefine weekends, shifting the nation's weekend from Thursday and Friday to Friday and Saturday, are still underway. 

Many believe that different weekends from almost the whole world is holding Iran’s economy back; the four-day holiday difference with almost the whole world is causing difficulties for Iranians.

In Islam, Friday is given the most importance than any other days of the week, so shifting the weekends from Friday is out of question, but it is not very harmful to change the Thursdays to Saturdays to promote the country’s interaction with the world economy. 

Decreasing public, unplanned holidays 

Excessive public and unplanned holidays would indubitably hurt the economy and the financial system. In addition to the aforesaid 26 days of national and Islamic holidays sometimes, most significantly during winter, the administration will be forced to shut down schools or the working places due to the heightened air pollution in metropolises as well as southwestern cities affected by sand and dust storm. 

In some other cases, for instance, once a national or Islamic holiday falls on Tuesday, though Wednesday is not officially a holiday it will become a holiday as well and form a long 4-day non-working weekend.  

Such intermittent and unplanned holidays can cause damage to the efforts designed to make the country’s financial and capital markets catch up with global trends.

In order to fix that there is another bill proposing decrease in the number of national holidays by eliminating four national holidays to address the shortcoming. Moreover, Iran’s Department of Environment (DOE) has put forward a bill suggesting a one-month holiday in cold seasons to avoid unplanned holidays during the school year which can seriously harm the educational system. 

Normally in Iran, students attend schools from September 23 to June 21 (from the beginning of autumn to the last month of spring next year) and have a 3-month summer holiday. As per the bill proposed by the DOE students are required to attend the schools from the last month of summer and will have a one month holiday starting on the last two weeks of autumn to the first two weeks of winter in order to avoid the unplanned holidays sparked by low air quality. 

The bill might not seem very efficient as deciding the most pollutant days during autumn or winter is not possible but it’s a start to perform research to reform the educational calendar as well as improving the necessary infrastructure, such as proper cooling or heating systems, at the schools.

The other side of the coin

While the government always focus on economic aspects of excessive public holidays for the country, one cannot deny the positive effects of holidays on productivity of the employees.

Paid time-offs cast a positive impact on the morale and motivation of the employees. Employees who have paid time off have the advantage of getting refreshed by getting away from the work environment.

According to a 2016 survey led by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development the highest average annual hours actually worked per worker in 35 countries amounts to some 2,255 hours a year, or some 43.36 hours a week for Mexican employees. Costa Rica with 42.53 hours a week, Korea with 39.78 hours a week, Greece with 39.13 hours a week and Chile and Russia both with 37.96 hours a week are completing the top five countries. 

At the other end of the table is Germany with 1,363 hours a year or 26.21 hours a week. Also employees of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands and France enjoy lowest working hours respectively. 

While Iran is not included in the survey the Iranian employees work some 44 hours a week in general. How efficient the working hours are is not easy to decide considering no comprehensive research has been conducted. 

But relatively speaking Iran is ranked among the top five countries with the highest average working hours. The public holidays in Iran certainly outnumber the other countries’ but many Iranians, as mentioned earlier, work six days a week instead of five with Thursday not officially considered as a weekend. So, taking that into account revising weekend holidays or excessive public holidays might not be as harmful as they are thought to be. 

To put it briefly, deciding the number of public holidays and weekends both for the employees and students significantly relies on a country’s policies and priorities and entails more detailed research but giving paid time off or increasing the weekends have certain positive outcomes that cannot be overlooked. 

MQ/MG

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