It's good to be back ... really

Perhaps it's time a minimum of four weeks' holiday each year was introduced to New Zealand. Darren Greenwood ponders the benefits of an extra week's leave.

It is good to be back. No doubt after five weeks' break you have missed
Computerworld, and this column.

I started my holidays late and came back early. Three weeks of annual leave entitlement is not much and I did not want to use it all over Christmas. But where do you stand if your employer has a long shutdown like Computerworld publisher IDG does, and, it seems, much of New Zealand?

The 1981 Holidays Act says if a worker has annual leave outstanding, in the absence of any agreement by the worker to the contrary the employer can give seven days' notice ordering the worker to take the time off. But if the worker has insufficient holidays outstanding and has been at the firm less than a year, the employer must pay holiday pay at 6% of the worker’s gross taxable earnings in that part year of employment. The worker’s next year of employment is deemed to start from that date of closedown. Where firms close for longer than the three-week minimum, if there is no agreement, firms have to pay wages over that extra period.

If the worker has no accrued entitlements, the employer can request the worker takes annual leave in advance (and have negative entitlements like I now have, which seems to be standard practice). The employer can also request the worker takes unpaid leave, but the worker can refuse. If the worker feels disadvantaged by this, sh/e can appeal through the Employment Relations Authority. Firms can also provide work for the worker to do, which may need supervision; or they allow the staff time off on pay. Not the simplest of situations, and this column does not have the room to look at the tricky issue of working on public holidays.

The Labour-led government is planning a review of minimum employment standards and the Holidays Act will be a major focus. Employers, ACT and National also favour change, though the Employers and Manufacturers Association says three weeks' annual leave plus 11 public holidays “compares reasonably well” with overseas entitlements and adds many firms offer more time off.

Indeed they do. Employment agencies tell me four to five weeks' holidays is typical in the IT industry, especially in contracts negotiated for new arrivals from overseas. No doubt they want the same conditions as back home. If firms just offer the minimum three weeks, they tend to be more flexible in other areas like hours of work.

The longer holidays enjoyed by foreigners is listed on the Alliance website, though they have neglected to show who is worse off. Our friends across the Tasman have four weeks (20 days) plus stats, Germany and Russia 24 days, France, Sweden and Finland 25 days; Spain and Austria 30 days. Even many third world states manage 24 to 30 days. The Brits are not listed, though from my experience four to five weeks plus stats was typical. Finally, those hardworking Americans usually get just one or two weeks off.

What is the best for workers, employers and the country? The New Zealand Herald over Christmas ran a series of articles asking bosses about their long holidays and whether it was good for the country. Many of those I read seemed to think it was. Our long summer break gave time to unwind, recharge the batteries and spend time with family and catch up with friends. However, one said the cows still produce milk, so his agribusiness and staff work over the holidays. Some bosses also fear business may be lost overseas while the country is on the beach.

But if almost everyone is off and an extra statutory week is given, who will suffer? If everyone has four weeks' annual holiday, there is no competitive advantage gained by the miserly, and local business has a level playing field. An extra week also allows workers more time to recover from increasing workloads, to de-stress, and save some from calling a sickie.

In my first week back, with most of my colleagues at home, it was hard to generate much motivation or energy. Consequently, my productivity was not as high as it might be. Of course, this week I was fine, while my workmates still had some "first-week-back blues".

Four or five weeks would allow a long summer holiday and perhaps a midwinter break. Of course, the best weather is yet to come in February, but that’s another issue.

Greenwood is a Computerworld journalist. Send email to Darren Greenwood and letters for publication to Computerworld Letters.

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