Tourists watch the National Day laser show in Guangzhou. Photo: Weibo/Yangcheng Evening News

Chinese policymakers may have found a new way to fire up the nation’s economy, which has been losing steam this year – ask the studious working class to take more leave.

With disappointing economic data in the first three quarters causing jitters among cadres and observers, and with the nation’s gross domestic product expanding at 6% during the period, the slowest pace in at least a decade, something had to be done.

So the National Development and Reform Commission, dubbed the “mini-State Council,” scrambled to issue a fresh policy paper aimed at spurring consumption during the holidays.

The NDRC document, made public last week, prods local governments to come to grips with labor benefits protection and implement rules to ensure employees’ rights to take paid leave, in particular during summer and winter breaks so they can vacation with their children.

“Labor and social welfare departments and labor unions must be given more oversight of employees’ rights protection including annual and paid leave at private enterprises and SMEs,” read the policy paper.

Stocks of the tourism, catering and accommodation and even baby-care sectors at the Shanghai and Shenzhen bourses rallied instantly on the news of more holidays, with many hitting the daily cap of price surges, the Shanghai Securities News reported.

Consumption, one of the key barometers of the well-being of the economy, has shown resilience when holidaymakers are still willing to spend.

During October’s National Day “golden week,” for instance, about 782 million Chinese thronged tourists spots across the country from the Forbidden City in Beijing to the former Presidential Palace in Nanjing, generating 650 billion yuan (US$92.7 billion) in revenue for related industries, according to the Ministry of Culture and Tourism.

Tourists wait outside the main gate of the Forbidden City in Beijing during this year’s National Day break. Photo: China News Service
Passengers pack the main station of Ningbo, a port and trading hub in eastern China, during this year’s Lunar New Year break. Photo: Asia Times

That said, consumer rights watchdogs and industry associations in many provinces were also inundated with complaints about overcrowding, price hikes and counterfeit goods.

Employees are encouraged to take their leave during off-peak seasons to avoid major public holidays like the week-long Chinese New Year break in January or February, the National Day or other red-letter days to mark special anniversaries, when major train stations and popular tourist attractions throughout the nation bulge at the seams as the entire nation knocks off for festivities and long breaks.

Policymakers at the NDRC are also mulling gazetting more national holidays on traditional Chinese festivals between March and October, as well as allowing more holiday entitlements for government and state-owned enterprise workers

They hope the private sector can follow suit, as employees at tech firms and startups toil six days a week, under the notorious 996 overtime culture – 9am to 9pm, six days a week.

A view of Hong Kong’s Central in the early hours of a Sunday morning, with lights in many office buildings still burning bright. Photo: Asia Times

The background is that while China has long implemented a five-day working week, so civil servants, SOE workers and teachers can relish two-day weekends, those employed in the private sector usually need to work flat-out for no less than six days every week.

There have been calls from SOE interest groups for government subsidies and tax incentives when their employees take leave to offset lost sales or revenue, especially amid more stringent labor protection oversight and inspections.

Meanwhile, a dozen provinces – including Guangdong, Zhejiang, Fujian, Jiangxi, Anhui, Hebei and Liaoning – have started a 2.5-day weekend program that allow employees to sign off by Friday noon during the summer, when they will be in a better mood for a lavish dinner and other entertainment, a key part of the “moonlight economy” coined by Beijing in a new policy package to stimulate consumption.

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