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UPDATED: August 3, 2015
Will Working Saturdays Help Boost the Economy?


The local government of Yan'an in northwest China's Shaanxi Province has recently demanded that civil servants in more than 30 departments work Saturdays until the end of September, owing to economic decline placing pressure on these departments.

Staff in government departments have had Saturdays and Sundays off since China initiated the two-day-weekend policy in 1995. This administrative order is undoubtedly interfering with what has come to be regarded among civil servants as the right to rest on a Saturday. This move is thus suspected by critics to be illegal. Others say that it's understandable that the local government would ask civil servants to work extra shifts over a few weekends, but they doubt whether the suspension of Saturdays off can really prove conducive toward reversing the trend of economic decline, particularly when civil servants are mostly forced to work on weekend.

Efficiency matters

Ma Zigong (www.toutiao.com): Local leaders must be very concerned about the economic decline. Their desire to promote the local economy is understandable and should be respected. However, the requirement for civil servants to work on Saturdays may not necessarily prove an effective policy to boost economic growth. What matters is the effectiveness of civil servants' work, rather than how many hours they put in.

For two decades, civil servants have been enjoying two days off work on Saturday and Sunday. The local government's decision to suspend this practice might inconvenience local civil servants who have gotten used to weekends off. This may in turn dull their enthusiasm on weekdays, affecting their overall work efficiency.

It's hard to say whether or not this measure will help the local economy. If it were the case that civil servants had so much work that they couldn't finish it all during the week, the new policy would somewhat make sense. If they don't have so much work to do even on work days, why ask them to work on weekends?

The local leadership should be aware the key to boosting the economy lies not in the quantity but rather on the quality of work completed.

Meng Yanyan (www.nen.com.cn): While civil servants are government workers and bear a responsibility to serve the people, they are also ordinary people who have private lives. They have the right to enjoy a two-day weekend under the law.

The potential negative consequences arguably outweigh the benefits extra work on Saturday might bring. Being forced to work Saturdays affect civil servants' enthusiasm for work, and consequently their efficiency. Working continuously for six days is also quite tiring. Without a good rest on the weekend, civil servants will likely make more mistakes during work time. Just like anyone else, civil servants have their own families and many day-to-day matters to deal with. When they have to work on weekends, they'll spend less time with their families and the ensuing reduction in the care they can show their loved ones might lead to misunderstandings and even conflicts in families. These will all bring heavy psychological pressure, thus affecting civil servants' life and work.

If the local government in Yan'an is really under serious pressure from the downturn and is in desperate need of government workers' extra work on Saturdays, it should try to adopt a more feasible schedule. For example, civil servants could be divided into different groups which could work on alternate weekends. The local government should also consider offering these civil servants extra bonuses and other incentives. In any case, if the local government really wants its civil servants to work well and contribute to economic development, it should try to make them as happy as possible. With an ensuingly high level of work efficiency, many economic problems can then be more effectively tackled.

Yang Yang (www.nen.com.cn): Pressure from an economic downturn is a thorny issue for all local governments, as it concerns not only local development but also the incomes and interests of individuals. If civil servants working Saturdays can really help enterprises and ordinary people in various respects, then this policy would be acceptable within the span of a certain period of time. The precondition is that there must be good communication between the civil servants and the government, so that they won't feel unduly pressured to work weekends. Also, it is unnecessary for all staff to work on a Saturday. Different people in the same posts should take shifts on different weekends.

There are still two months to go before arriving at the end of September. The staff will probably feel exhausted after having only one day off work every week. As a result, they might feel unhappy and less enthusiastic in their duties. Besides, as is stipulated by the law, employees have the right to ask for payment for their work, and thus the local government should compensate civil servants for extra work on weekends, which could also help encourage them to work better.

A breach of rights

Wang Xiaoxuan (www.haxw.net): If the logic is that the economy is not operating well because civil servants are not spending enough time on work, why not ask them to work on Sundays?

Even if such action was taken, whether or not it would boost the local economy would remain a moot point. Many factors have contributed to the current gloomy economic situation in Yan'an, factors which the local government is supposed to have carefully analyzed so that it can find proper ways to solve the fundamental problems affecting economic development.

The local government has by and large disregarded state regulations on employees' working time with its new policy, an action seen as exceeding its proper powers.

Li Wei (www.nen.com.cn): It's common to see government workers work extra shifts on weekends, but rarely do we see cases like the one in Yan'an, where civil servants are asked to work weekends via a government order.

A lot of government departments are service providers, so services on weekends will undoubtedly bring convenience to the public. However, it would be preferable that civil servants would attend work voluntarily, instead of being forced to do so by an administrative order.

Reversing the downturn is important but this will not be simply achieved by requiring civil servants to work weekends. Meanwhile, the economy has its own rules to follow, and too much administrative interference from the government may represent a step in the wrong direction. Moreover, if poor morale exists among staff, the public image and perceived approachability of civil servants could easily be affected.

In recent years, there have been frequent reports on the violations of workers' legitimate rights, with quite a number of employees being forced to work extra shifts in various sectors. When even civil servants' right to enjoy a break on the weekend is deprived, you can imagine what kind of situation workers in private enterprises face.

Of course, it's not the case that civil servants should never be asked to work on weekends. If they do have unfinished work left from weekdays, they will often feel like catching up--even on weekends. But when the extra work is required within a system, the government must think of measures such as bonuses to maintain their enthusiasm, and at that, measures that do not contravene their legitimate rights. As the public face of our national institutions, civil servants must be kept happy and productive, so that they can better serve people and maintain the good name of the government.

Copyedited by Eric Daly

Comments to yanwei@bjreview.com

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