Endy Bayuni, Jakarta – The Idul Fitri holiday this year came and went without the massive congestion that usually clogs the country's roads and ferry ports. This was despite record numbers of people joining the annual exodus from cities to their home villages to celebrate the end of the Ramadan fasting month.
The government had anticipated that the number of revelers would soar as travel restrictions, imposed in the last two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, have lifted. The completion of many new toll roads, particularly on Java Island, helped to smooth the traffic flow. Police worked around the clock during the crucial moments before and after Idul Fitri on April 22.
Contributing to this success is the government's decision to declare a public holiday from April 19 to 25. On top of the usual two days of national holiday for Idul Fitri, the government added another four under what it calls cuti bersama (collective leave). With Saturday and Sunday, the nation effectively enjoyed a total of eight uninterrupted days of holiday. This eased the traffic flow as travel was dispersed throughout the longer break.
Before anyone suggests making this collective leave a permanent feature every year, we should recognize that there are costs to bear for this success, and the question of who pays for them. Every policy has its downsides, and it appears that the success of this policy has eclipsed the costs, to the point that no one talks about them, not even those who have to bear them.
Those who make their living daily, whether laborers or small traders, are among the main victims of this policy. Millions of workers, including factory workers, in Indonesia are paid daily rather than monthly and some pay is based on productivity. With no work, there is no pay, and the longer Idul Fitri break hurts their income. Small traders, unless those related to catering the need of revelers, are also impacted by the longer holiday. Typically, this policy hurts the poor and benefits the salaried workers.
But even among salaried workers, not everyone is necessarily happy with the idea of collective leave as this comes off their annual holiday entitlements. They are forced to take their leave, like it or not. It's no wonder that the number of Idul Fitri revelers has gone up.
Workers in the public and private sectors typically get 10 days of paid holiday each year. If you add the 15 national holidays that they get every year, workers end up with 25 days of holiday each year, which is still comparable with the average of four weeks of paid vacation Europeans get each year. No complaints there.
But now, the government has made it a habit to declare more and more collective leave days throughout the year. In 2023, it has already designated eight days, including the day after Christmas (it won't be long before we start calling it Boxing Day). All this comes off their 10-day annual holiday entitlements, effectively leaving them with only two days that they are free to choose themselves.
In the past, many Indonesians chose to spend their holiday coinciding with the long school breaks, rather than joining the Idul Fitri exodus. Now this looks like a luxury, whether you work in the public or private sectors. Can anyone put a price tag of the losses that parents incur for not being able to spend time with their children during school breaks?
Businesses also seemed to go along with the idea of collective leave during Idul Fitri break, and for factories, this means they have to shut down for the duration. In the past, these plants stayed running, with fewer shifts with fewer workers during the long holiday.
This raised the question of fairness. Should these daily workers, small traders and factory owners, be the only ones to bear the costs associated with the long Idul Fitri breaks?
This may not have been an issue when collective leave started some years ago, since Idul Fitri in those years took place in July and June, which coincided with the school breaks. No one questioned the government's decision at the time and if anything, there was widespread acceptance, especially since it has proven to be a good recipe in bringing order to the Idul Fitri holiday traffic.
But Idul Fitri, which follows the lunar year, moves forward by 10 days each year, and by now the holiday is months apart from the school break. More and more people are being affected by the policy, not just daily workers or small traders.
Before we normalize collective leave, or even before we extend the Idul Fitri break because of this success story, we should pause and ask the nation whether this is really a good idea, and most importantly whether this is fair to the daily laborers, small traders and now children who will miss the chance of going on vacation with their parents during school breaks.
[The writer is senior editor of The Jakarta Post.]