Heroes of the ‘working vacation’ | Daily News

Heroes of the ‘working vacation’

Holidays, even nationally important ones such as the Sinhala and Tamil New Year and Vesak should not disrupt the smooth functioning of society. Granted, workers look forward to spending time with their loved ones, and take time off from the daily grind. But there used to be a time when this meant there was a significant disruption of normal life. Holidays a decade or so ago meant that certain vital trades such as the bakery business totally disappeared from the commercial radar.

Commercial establishments in the predominantly Sinhala areas had an attitude of lotus eating abandon when it came to the significant national holidays in April and May. Now this situation has largely changed. In the past few years, the vagaries of competition ensured that business establishments are kept open sometimes even during the New Year. Supermarket chains, for instance, kept their doors open during the recent holidays.

These establishments manage to do so by making sure that those who celebrate a given holiday are sent on leave during that holiday period, while others work, with the process being reversed when different national holidays come up. For instance, Buddhist and Hindu workers are relieved of their duties in the Avurudu season, while Christian workers are given off days during Christmas.

If establishments do not follow these commonsense guidelines, that would be a grave injustice to employees. All those who enjoy the holidays and avail themselves of the facility of functioning establishments during major public holidays, should spare a thought for workers who make their seasonal vacation more pleasant. In the old days, people suffered severe inconvenience when they were unable to stock up for extended holidays.

Now, they do not necessarily have to plan things out in advance and suffer from the anxiety of being severely inconvenienced during extended breaks when supplies run out. The workers who make this possible are making a tremendous sacrifice. Their families do too, because they would rather have their loved ones home during the vacations.

There must be better ways for a nation to register their debt of gratitude to these men and women who toil away when others are on holiday, than the occasional kind words by customers they will hear. There should be a more organized national effort at acknowledging their contributions and this goes for frontline workers and military personnel who made tremendous sacrifices during the lockdowns when the nation was semi-functional in the initial days of the pandemic.

It is a positive development that commercial monopolies that enabled civic dysfunction during New Years past have now been challenged. In other words, those days the mudalalis and ownership classes felt they had no obligation to the customer because if they all closed at the same time, everybody being at their mercy, there was absolutely nothing customers could do about it.

But there were those who saw the opportunity of selling during the vacation period when most establishments were closed. This gradually woke up others to the realization that in a competitive business environment, they leave the customers to their own devices at their own peril.

Today, the gig workers too do a tremendous service. It is sometimes heartrending to see young people on bikes, toiling to deliver food to those who have the ability to order from an App with the swipe of a finger, or the click of a button. These gig workers were indeed shown special appreciation by the Government for the services they rendered during the lockdowns.

The young are mostly able to withstand some of the rigours of gig delivery jobs, but there are older folk who sometimes do this work. Irrespective of age, these folk should be treated with the respect they deserve. The very fact that there are so many of them on the streets shows there is a slice of the youth demographic that would have been hard put to find any type of employment particularly during the pandemic, if the gig economy was not in existence.

Technology has made things more convenient for the consumer, and has provided employment at least on a part time basis as well — but it is not hard to guess who benefits most from the bargain.

Consumers who are able to order at the swipe of a finger are the runaway winners. That is not to say that the boys and sometimes girls who toil to deliver are not beneficiaries in the bargain, but indeed there should be some empathy for their lot. It is a thankless job sometimes, particularly when the customers tend to take things for granted.

If things are over-regulated, these boys and girls may see their jobs disappearing altogether. The same goes for service sector workers who toil during the public holidays. While certainly no stone should be left unturned to ensure that there is a minimum mandatory regulatory framework that respects their rights, human empathy should kick in, and all those who enjoy the conveniences afforded by the services sector during the holiday period in particular, should treat the mostly young workforce with great respect and kindness.