Lucky Mauritians: Our long festive season

We are really lucky that the vast majority of people in the working age group are not only in gainful employment, but are able to have, legally, a good balance of working days and holidays – By Dr R Neerunjun Gopee

While December-January is without doubt our longest festive season in the year, it cannot be gainsaid that we are in festive mood for most of the year. The reason is not far to seek: there is a succession of festivals and similar events spread throughout the year, sometimes following in each other’s heels as it were (after Christmas there is New Year, then will come Sankranti in mid-January after which we prepare for Thaipoosum Cavadee and as soon as it is over we are looking forward – for February is a short month – to Kung Shee Fat Choy).

Several of these occasions are accorded public holidays, which total about 10 -12 per year. Next if we add the 52 Sundays and the half-day Saturdays, 75 plus days in all, we have over 85 holidays per year. Which leaves us with (365-85) or approximately 280 working days in a year. Peculiar to Mauritius is our famed lundi cordonnier, and if we factor this into our calculation, then for some people the effective working days take a further dip to maybe around 250 in all for some categories that can afford the latitude and luxury of the cobbler’s Monday. It is understood that these considerations apply to those who are in regular employment, and the unemployed would probably feel great if they could have even half the estimated number of working days of their employed counterparts.

The right to work

It is of course government’s responsibility to nurture the environment that is most conducive to the generation of employment for, as far as possible, all citizens in the working age-group, and we will leave it to the economists to cogitate upon the pros and cons of full employment in any society. In many countries government is the largest employer and government contracts are the biggest too, and this provides opportunities for contractors who obtain such contracts to create jobs.

The employment market of course goes through fluctuations and cycles, and each country must devise its own strategies so as to minimize the risk, or chaos, of unmanageable social tensions if a large chunk of its population in the working age group faces chronic unemployment. The current generation may not have heard about the ‘4 jours a Paris’ scheme at the beginning of the 1980s decade, when unemployed unskilled or semi-skilled workers were given at least four days of work per week by government, not sufficient of course, but at least it spared them and their families from hunger – until the scheme was brutally ended when a new regime took over.

In some countries, the situation is much more dramatic. In India, for example, the ‘Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act’, MGNREGA, is an Indian labour law and social security measure that aims to guarantee the “right to work”.

‘It aims to enhance livelihood security in rural areas by providing at least 100 days of wage employment in a financial year to every household whose adult members volunteer to do unskilled manual work, covering a variety of projects such as building roads, canals, ponds, wells that would be durable assets’.

All told, therefore, and considering what is happening to growth and unemployment rates in many countries around the world, including rich and prosperous Europe, we must accept that we are really lucky in this country that the vast majority of people in the working age group are not only in gainful employment with, to boot, a 13th month of salary as bonus – but are able to have, legally, a good balance of working days and holidays in a ratio of about 75% to 25%. Holidays are of course as important as work days so that we can replenish our energies and refresh ourselves both mentally and physically, and this will – at least in theory – allow us to be more efficient and ‘productive’ at work. Sounds good, doesn’t it?

The good news

On the holiday front, however, there’s more good news around this time of the year, and this for various reasons. For a start, students are on vacation, most of them done with their exams and the results of the latter, good or bad – but at least the wait is over and they can freely enjoy themselves until classes resume in January. Then there’s Christmas which this year is on a Monday so it’s a super long weekend, with the next one too crowning with an even longer weekend, since the 1st and 2nd January 2018 – my, already!! – fall on Monday and Tuesday respectively. That is for the formal days off, but in the informal ones that begin from the very first week of December, we are already overcome by a light and jolly mood. All of us know how excitedly we anticipate the 1st of December every year, and as soon as it has made its glorious entry whenever we come across close ones we exclaim almost simultaneously, and regularly, ‘Decembre la alle ene sel lapente la! Pou alle vite ca!’ And you bet that it does indeed!

Across workplaces plans for end-of-year meals or parties begin to be made from the beginning of the month itself, as bookings become tight afterwards, and increasingly many such gatherings are held from the very first week itself. Then of course, come the shopping sprees for Xmas and New Year, which receive a boost since the salary and bonus are paid a good few days before Xmas. What with the traditional shops and the number of malls around the country and transport within reach of everybody it goes without saying that the shopping centres are abuzz if not inflamed during this period! There is much eating and drinking, and who hasn’t heard it being said in the aftermath of the lalang lapatte lapatte, ‘la nek ene bon bouillon brede ki pou remette ça la!’ At Monoprix in Curepipe on January 3rd morning last year, I spotted two gentlemen in the queue to the counter holding bundles of greens in their hands, and exchanging each a conspiratorial wink in the direction of the other! And really, those who have indulged – which we senior citizens take care to avoid – too late realize that they have gone rather farther than they ought to have! But in the excitement of the merry atmosphere that is pervasive at this time of the year, it’s just almost everybody letting themselves go in abandon!

Perhaps because we are in a tropical island we have a greater propensity towards merry- making, which is per se not a bad thing provided we do not carry it to extremes. On the other hand, ours I think is the only country in the world which has the 2nd January as a public holiday, and where on the 31st of December it has become almost a tradition for people to be let off at midday except in the shopping sectors and the essential services which have to maintain an adequate level of staffing. Post the New Year the island laggardly picks up its working pace, which does not really reach the usual cruising speed until after Sankranti, aided also by the fact that parliament is on holiday, and most big firms re-open in the second week of January.

Unfortunately, this rather optimistic and rosy depiction is marred by a grimmer reality, that of the economic slowdown, factory closure, worker layoff with more likely to come, the ugly underbelly of the drug business and its ramifications at political and professional levels being unraveled in front of the Lam Shang Leen Commission, the mess in the education system with the frustration and disruption caused to parents and their wards post PSAC, the indecent ostentation of their wealth by the privileged and the rich…Perhaps the fact that people who find themselves at the nether end of the social scale have, at least, their festivals to fall back upon on a regular basis, they are able to get some solace, who knows.

Nevertheless, Merry Xmas to them and everyone else! And hope and pray for better days to come, what else can we do.

 

*  Published in print edition on 22 December 2017

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