Skip to Content

Labor Day isn’t the holiday it once was for China’s workers

<i>He Penglei/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images via CNN Newsource</i><br/>Tourists visit the Qiansimen Jialing River Bridge during the May Day holiday on May 1
He Penglei/China News Service/VCG/Getty Images via CNN Newsource
Tourists visit the Qiansimen Jialing River Bridge during the May Day holiday on May 1

By Chris Lau and Hassan Tayir, CNN

Hong Kong (CNN) — Like hundreds of millions of workers in China, Hao Zeyu, an algorithm engineer at an electric vehicle maker, is getting five days off this week for the Labor Day holiday. But he’s in no mood to party.

In order to take the vacation, Hao is required to work an extra day on each weekend immediately before and after the break.

To add insult to injury, two of the official vacation days fall on Saturday and Sunday. That means just one of those five days counts as a genuine holiday.

The practice of moving workdays to weekends to create a longer vacation during major Chinese holidays is known as “tiaoxiu” or adjusted rest. Introduced in 1999 to stimulate consumer spending following the Asian financial crisis, it has been the subject of much online anger in the weeks leading up to this year’s May 1 holiday.

“I really don’t like it,” Hao told CNN. “I think this policy was meant to promote consumption at a certain stage of the country’s development, but I very much do not support it anymore,” he added.

So, why has a decades-old policy caused so much upset in a country whose Communist Party leadership pays annual homage to International Workers’ Day?

Workers say a post-Covid slump in the world’s second largest economy means they are increasingly afraid of losing their jobs if they dare to ask for extra leave on top of the officially sanctioned holidays — which they had previously felt comfortable doing.

And they say they’re being asked to work harder than ever because their employers are trying to do more with fewer resources as economic misery — a property crisis, declining foreign investment and tepid consumption — piles up.

Trending topic

In recent weeks, complaints about this year’s Labor Day leave arrangements have exploded on Chinese social media. Many have slammed the government for prioritizing business over something they desperately need, which is an actual break.

People have been venting their frustration under the hashtags “you should not pretend not to hear voices opposing the tiaoxiu policy” and “tiaoxiu policy for May Day,” which have collectively drawn more than 560 million views combined.

One user wrote the online discussion was not merely a policy debate, it’s an embodiment of “physical and mental exhaustion caused by crazy overtime work.”

“What we are longing for is an effective rest that is urgently needed from overworking,” the person added.

Another person wrote on social media platform Weibo that they “want more holidays not shifting things around in order to get those long holidays.”

“Who will have the mood to spend money if they don’t have (real) holidays?” the person wrote.

To make things worse, the “orchestrated” vacations often result in a scramble for hard-to-get train tickets, inflated hotel deals and chaos at popular tourist spots, Hao told CNN.

Labor Day isn’t the only holiday to get the adjusted rest policy.

The authorities also shuffle workdays around the Spring Festival, celebrated in January or February, and National Day, which takes place on October 1, to create seven-day breaks known as “Golden Weeks.”

Working harder

Christian Yao, a senior lecturer at the University of Wellington, said China’s economy is “in the middle of very bumpy years” as it strives to transform itself from a manufacturing powerhouse into a knowledge-based economy.

He said workers are beginning to question where the country is heading. The slowing economy has, in turn, put pressure on companies to improve their productivity while cutting costs.

“Workers are forced to work harder, afraid of losing jobs and at the same time afraid of whether finding another job is going to offer them better pay,” he said.

Even though some workers are used to working long hours under China’s “996” work culture — the practice of working from 9 am to 9 pm six days a week that is common among the country’s tech companies, startups and other private businesses — others are now refusing to put up with the adjusted work policy, Yao said.

With the policy, China is able to designate more than 25 days as official holidays. Without the maneuvering though, workers get 11 days, which is still in line with many other countries. The United States, for instance, offers 11 federal holidays while the United Kingdom has eight days.

But the problem for Chinese workers is that their statutory paid time off (PTO), or annual leave, is just five days a year, which is much less than many other countries.

When times were good, Chinese companies were more generous in granting those PTO days. But it’s a different story during an economic slowdown.

Max Teng, a business analyst in the internet industry, told CNN that he used to work for a foreign company. But the truth is it was no better, he said.

“If you take a long leave, everyone will have some negative feedback for you. So many people do not dare to take leave even if it’s offered,” he said.

Exceptions to the rule

A minority of companies are doing things their own way. Yaer Tuerdi, 26, works in the marketing division of Kentucky Fried Chicken, which is run by fast food giant Yum China (YUMC).

Yum China doesn’t require workers to come in during the two designated “special working days.”

“I like it,” said Tuerdi. “You can arrange your break freely … If you want to travel, you can take annual leave to make up for the gap. If you don’t want to travel, you can still have two days of rest on the weekend.”

A movement among independent businesses is pushing back on the obsession of excessively long work hours. Among the more prominent proponents is Pang Dong Lai, a supermarket chain known for its customer service based in the central province of Henan.

In March, its founder and chairman Yu Donglai announced he was offering 10 days a year of “sadness leave” for employees who did not feel up to working, state media People’s Daily reported.

“Everyone feels down inevitably every now and then and if they can have this sadness leave, they may feel good again,” it quoted him as saying. Managers, Yu added, cannot reject such leave applications.

He has been one of the rare advocates of work-life balance in a culture that prizes “eating bitterness,” or enduring hardship to succeed, and often speaks at business forums to preach his beliefs.

CNN has contacted the supermarket chain to ask about its Labor Day plans.

As for Teng, he will have to work on May 11, a Saturday, as part of the standard holiday arrangement.

“I feel very depressed because I have to work at least six days in a row,” he said.

™ & © 2024 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

Article Topic Follows: Holidays

Jump to comments ↓

Author Profile Photo

CNN Newsource


KIFI Local News 8 is committed to providing a forum for civil and constructive conversation.

Please keep your comments respectful and relevant. You can review our Community Guidelines by clicking here

If you would like to share a story idea, please submit it here.

Skip to content