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Business-friendly weekly holidays
Enayet Rasul

          Government remains unmindful about it like its attitude towards some other vital issues. Business bodies have gone on drawing the attention of the government to its earlier pledges of reducing the number of weekly holidays and also about the day they would prefer to be observed as the weekly holiday for the facilitation of the country's economic activities. But the pleadings appear to be falling on deaf ears.
The altered weekly holiday's schedule of two days on Friday and Saturday was welcomed mainly by government employees and others who have a rather comfortable existence unlike the very competitive occupations of those who are in businesses. Civil servants and many of those who work in non government organisations (NGOs) and similar bodies do not have to compete so much with others at the local and international levels for the safety and assurance of their earnings . The regular remunerations of these classes are ensured by the government and their non government employers respectively.
The same is not the case with business organisations which have a stake in remaining at work as long as possible throughout the week to be able to run viably their business operations. More and not less work is the key to success in businesses and also uninterrupted working conditions. Businesses also create and provide the lion's share of the country's wealth and income. They keep the government going in the financial sense by providing the former with taxes, levies, charges and other payments. Thus, they ought to be regarded as very important stakeholders in the running of the country or its economy. No government should be complacent about the rightful demand of businesses because smooth operations of business organisations also translate into very major contribution towards the economic security of the country. The government itself is so much dependent on the success of business for its own resourcefulness in the form of getting amply various revenues.
Therefore, it comes as a shock that the suggestions of the highest representative bodies of businesses in the country continue to be rather callously treated in this respect. Businesses in Bangladesh are substantially linked to the world outside and international trade is very largely and fruitfully carried with the developed countries where weekly holidays are observed on Saturday and Sunday. Thus, the operationalisation of weekly holidays on Friday and Saturday in Bangladesh has meant that its business operators remain cut off from international contacts for three days at a stretch ; three out of the seven working days are being lost to them as a result.
How could the government overlook the prevailing weekly holidays in other Islamic countries ? In Pakistan, which is an Islamic republic, Sunday and not Friday is the weekly holiday. The same is observed in Malaysia and some other Muslim countries. There is nothing in the Islamic tradition that forbids work after the weekly Jumma prayers on Friday. Therefore, apart from a short interval for the Jumma prayers on Friday, there is no reason for that day to be not a full working day and Bangladeshis are not going to be less pious or less Islamic for working on Friday. But it seems that these considerations have been ignored to favour the rather populist decision to retain the holiday on Friday with an eye for some sections of voters to the serious detriment of the country's economy or its businesses.
Then, there is also the point of whether a country like Bangladesh should be reducing its work hours so much as part of conservation of resources in the face of stresses showing up on the macro-economy. The view of most of the professionals and economists is the opposite. They say that the best way to cope with the situation is carrying out austerity or frugality in spending where the same would matter and redouble our productive work efforts in support of greater economic or business activities. This is their more credible proposal for coming out of the woods in the economic sense and that would involve not lengthening the weekly holidays but shortening it. In other words, one day holiday on Sunday seems to be the right course of action to take.
The Federation of Bangladesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FBCCI) is the biggest representative body of businesses in the country and the views expressed by its leaders are to be regarded as reflective in general of the business community as a whole. The FBCCI leaders urged the government months ago to revise the weekly holidays schedule that, in their view, would seriously disrupt business activities and prove to be economically not gainful for the country. They requested the government to go for only one day holiday on Sunday. If that is not entirely possible, they want a half day of holiday to be observed on Saturday and no holiday on Friday except for an interval from work for an hour for the Jumma prayers on that day.
Business leaders have irrefutable points in their favour in demanding a revision in the weekly holiday schedule. First of all, they rightly feel that they are very important stakeholders in the national economy providing 80 per cent of the revenues to the government and 90 per of the jobs. Thus, they should have been duly consulted by the government while setting the weekly holiday schedule that stands to affect economic activities on a large scale or their business activities. If they cannot earn enough due to the operation of the present holiday schedule, then how they are going to pay enough revenues to the government or sustain the existing number of jobs or create new ones respectively, they contend.
Business activities or transactions now for Bangladeshi businesses come to a halt for three consecutive days or nearly half of a week. This situation is undermining the progress or productivity of businesses . For three days at a stretch, business operators find themselves handicapped without banking, insurance, customs and other vital supportive services. Understandably, their concern on these scores needs to be duly appreciated by the government.
Government will be doing the right thing by responding promptly and positively in line with the suggestions that have been made by the business community. No government loses credibility but earns only gratitude and appreciation by responding timely to the legitimate grievances of important sections in the population. In this case, what the businessmen are pleading for represents not only their own narrow interests but the well-being of the national economy as well. Therefore, the same deserves a swift and befitting response from the government.
Bangladesh would not be out of step with the Islamic world by declaring Sunday as the weekly holiday. The holy Quran also urges Muslims to spread out into the world and work at their different occupations as soon as the prayers are over. Therefore, there would be nothing inconsistent with Islam in deciding on Sunday as the weekly holiday.


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