Is the worker free to choose whether to work on a holiday or not? Is it truly a free choice? And if a worker feels the need to work on a holiday to earn double instead of taking a day off, what does this suggest about the cost of living?
by Henry-Franz Gauci
Illustration by Ramon Azzopardi Fiott
Today is Independence Day, one of Malta’s most celebrated National Holidays. A few days ago, on the 8th of September, Malta celebrated another national feast—Victory Day. For many workers it used to mean a holiday, a day off work; a chance to regenerate, recreate oneself, and time to spend with friends and family.
It used to mean all of those because it no longer does.
A quick trip around Malta on this day is enough to realise it’s not much different from any working day. And this holds true not only for commercial centers, like Valletta and Sliema, or touristy ones, like Buġibba, but for every village in Malta, big or small. National feasts—and holidays in general—have lost their meaning of a ‘holiday’ for many workers. Much like Sundays.
Why is this happening? How should we interpret this?
Businesses have a chance to increase their profit and can no longer complain of losing a day’s worth of revenue.
From an economic perspective, you could say it is a good sign, that our economy is on turbo and has no place for holidays. You could say that it means that the economy is booming and that employment is plentiful. Businesses have a chance to increase their profit and can no longer complain of losing a day’s worth of revenue.
From a consumer’s perspective, you could say it is a positive change, as now you can do any errands on any day of the week—nowadays, a necessity for most households whose members are caught in 8-to-5, Monday-to-Friday jobs, and thus have no other day for errands.
From a worker’s perspective, however, this shift is not equally positive. Workers are losing a day off, although many will argue that the majority of self-employed shop owners choose freely to open on this day. Others will argue that employees working on this day will earn double, and many of them, in fact, have no qualms about working on a holiday.
But this issue should also raise a number of pertinent questions.
If consumers need a holiday to carry out their errands, what does this say about our lifestyle?
If consumers need a holiday to carry out their errands, what does this say about our lifestyle? Have we lost our time-management abilities? Or are we working too many long hours that leave us with no alternative? Has the anxious neoliberal outlook to life turned us into cogs of the system? Has the saying ‘man shall not live by bread alone’ lost its meaning?
And is the worker free to choose whether to work on a holiday or not? Is it truly a free choice? Can the worker do otherwise and, if so, what would be the consequences? And if a worker feels the need to work on a holiday to earn double instead of taking a day off, what does this suggest about the cost of living?
Is the worker free to choose whether to work on a holiday or not? Is it truly a free choice?
While supermarkets have been opening on Sundays and public holidays for quite some time now, the construction industry has only recently become a sector that knows no holidays. This is a result of the current boom in construction—and it thrives on the labour of the great number of foreign workers who seem to accept to work on any day. It takes a quick tour around Malta on a holiday to witness how most construction sites, occupied mostly by foreign workers, carry out tasks as though it’s a weekday.
I wonder: Are these workers aware that they should be paid a double amount as well? Are they paid double as they should be?
Henry-Franz Gauci a teacher whose interest in the humanities encourages him to inquire into the complexities of society.