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Vietnam PM approves 9-day Lunar New Year holiday
By An Dien - Thanh Nien News -

People queue outside the country's first McDonald's restaurant in Ho Chi Minh City during the Lunar New Year holiday in 2014. Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has allowed state employees to have nine days off for Tet and two other extended holidays in 2015. Photo credit: AFP

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has signed off on a proposal that will grant state employees nine days off for Tet (Lunar New Year) and two other extended holidays in 2015.

An announcement posted on the government website Monday said the official holiday will begin on February 15 and end on February 23. State employees will have to work on Saturday (February 14) to make up the extra day off (Monday, February 16).

The labor ministry submitted two options for the Tet holiday -- 7 days or 9 days -- to PM Dung last month. The ministry recommended the 9-day option since it would create an uninterrupted holiday with a relatively even number of days off both before and after the holiday itself (4 and 5 days).

The 9-day option “received strong backing since it is in line with the Vietnamese custom and meets the needs of the workers,” the government website said Monday. 

As for the Gregorian New Year's holiday, PM Dung also allowed civil servants to take a day off on Friday, January 2, 2015 so they will have four consecutive days off between January 1 and 4. By doing so, they will work on Saturday, December 27, 2014 to make up for their extra day off
Another extended holiday is also in the offing next year. To celebrate what will be the Hung Kings' Temple Festival, which pays tribute to the traditional founders of the nation, and the Liberation Day on April 30 that marked the end of the Vietnam War in 1975, state employees will have six days off -- from April 28 to May 3. They will work on Saturday, April 25, in lieu.
“Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung stressed that all state agencies must strictly adhere to the adjusted work schedules,” the government announcement said.
Last year, when the government approved a similar 9-day break, critics argued that a protracted Tet, Vietnam's most important holiday, was no longer suitable for the modern economy of a country where the average person earns less than $15 a day.
The frenzy of consumerism that has emerged around Tet is not a good thing, they say.
Before sending the holiday proposals to the government for approval, Doan Mau Diep, vice labor minister, said: “There have been concerns that the long holiday may affect businesses and the people as it is difficult to get anything done in many state agencies. That’s why the labor ministry needs to poll opinions from agencies concerned.”

But proponents of those holidays say Vietnam and Singapore share the lowest number of public holidays in Southeast Asia--11 days. Meanwhile, Cambodians enjoy 28 days off, Malaysians and the Filipinos have 21 days, Thais 18 days, or Laotians 13 days.

Given that, the extended holidays “will certainly serve to boost domestic tourism and also outbound tourism in the region as many Vietnamese and expats prefer to go to place like Thailand and Philippines as they offer something different and are often cheaper than travelling within Vietnam,” Kenneth Atkinson, chairman of the Vietnam Business Forum’s Tourism Working Group, told Thanh Nien News.

As for the holiday in late April, Atkinson said what the government is doing is to actually extend what is in fact a 3-day holiday to a 5-day holiday with the extra Saturday workday. 

“For many businesses, especially manufacturing, to actually open and close twice or three times in a week is very troublesome so many factory owners would support this idea of having a full week and making up time by working two Saturdays or Sundays,” he said.

Critics argue, however, that in a country where labor productivity is among the lowest in the Asia – Pacific region -- according to the International Labor Organization  -- any expansion of holiday days should be spread throughout the year.

“When I lived in Vietnam and foreigners would ask me how long the Tet holiday was, I always told them three weeks,” said Dennis McCornac, an American professor of economics who used to live and work in Hanoi.

“Basically one week to get prepared (so not much got done), one week for the holidays, and one week to recover (and not much got done).”