Looking out the window as I write this column, it is a day of typical British weather, it is overcast and dark at 9.00 in the morning, it is raining in a spotty sort of way and the atmosphere is generally damp. There are gusts of wind, and all in all it looks really miserable.
In the UK, there are far more days with weather like this than there are in generally sunny Philippines. But despite the generally awful weather in the UK, I cannot recall an occasion when I was prevented from either going to school or going about my normal business; and the UK has snow as well!
Severe weather disturbances like typhoons are of course very bad news particularly in a place with such a fragile infrastructure as the Philippines. The roads flood within minutes of the start of a downpour, houses get flooded out, roofs blow off, trees are uprooted, the power goes off and telecommunications get cut.
To add to this and judging from the way in which drivers drop their passengers off at places, Filipinos don’t much like getting rained upon. Schools and colleges are just shut down by the Department of Education if there is the least threat of severe weather, and many workplaces become short-handed. These weather disturbances are highly disruptive.
In 2015, there will be 27 official national non-working public holidays, all of which are designed to fall on what are otherwise normal working days, increased this year beyond normal as a result of both the Pope’s visit and the APEC conference. There are also many local holidays and fiesta days. Other nations have fewer national holidays falling on working days—Singapore has 12 days, USA 7, Australia 12, Hong Kong 13 and UK 8. The Philippines seems to be top of the league for the most public holidays in the world. Runners-up are India and Colombia with 18 days each, followed by Thailand, Lebanon and South Korea with 16 days each.
In the UK, the cost to GDP of public holidays has been estimated by the Center for Business and Economic Research at over 2 billion pounds a day. It could be argued that as the Philippines is a consumer rather than manufacturing production-based economy, then the more holidays the better as they allow more opportunity for buying things that people don’t really need in the shopping malls, dining out, etc. This is heightened by the fact that about 15 percent of the money spent in the Philippines is earned in other nations. So there could be an economic case that the Philippines needs even more holidays facilitating social activities, keeping in touch and through that improving the quality of life, and allowing more time to boost GDP by shopping. Less available time for working also tends to reduce the number of employees,thus saving labor costs.
Thus if we add together the number of national and local holidays and time lost through the rather timid approach to shutting things down in bad weather we could end up with about 25 percent of potentially productive working time lost. That’s a lot. But that is not all; there are noticeable productivity reductions around holiday times when people plan their social activities, and around bad weather times when people get involved in matters affecting their family members—“the roof has been blown off my sister’s house,” “my mother’s house is flooded” and so on.
It has to be accepted that things have a habit of progressing rather slowly in the bureaucracy. There seems to be little desire to put in place procedures and employee motivation systems, which focus on getting things don e in as fast a time as possible, such that it may take a month to move an important piece of paper across the room from one desk to another. Add to this the disruption caused by being top of the world league in holidays occurring at fairly random times and close to the top in time lost through weather disturbances and you have an economy in which, given the skill sets that are available among Filipinos, there is room for a considerable increase in national productivity to foster and encourage industrial development and move the nation forward.
Mike can be contacted at email@example.com.