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Warmer: Do you enjoy your public holidays? Are they important to you? Would you be happy with the idea of cutting these holidays if it would help improve the country’s economy? Why/why not?

Now read the text below, and then answer the questions that follow.

When one country cut its public holidays (for five years at least, anyway)

Adapted by Roger Hartopp from various articles

Note: this text was originally compiled in 2014, and so may contain information that is now out-of-date.

 

Everybody complains about public holidays, but for very different reasons. Many employees say we don’t get enough, many employers and self-employed individuals say we get too many, and some say that many are pointless because of outdated religious practices, for anniversaries long ago that celebrate events important to the country such as independence and victories (usually as a result of war), and the odd day to celebrate workers (May 1, also known as May Day).


Now if we look around Europe to assess the general state of public holidays, Finland offers the highest number (15), followed by Turkey (14.5), Russia (14) and Slovakia (13). The UK and the Netherlands have the lowest number of public holidays in Europe with only 8 (although the UK had 9 in 2012 to celebrate the Queen’s Diamond jubilee). Many countries around the world often have the problem of holidays on fixed dates because of religion and anniversaries, but in England, despite the fact that there are only eight days, five of them always fall on a Monday. Only Christmas and New Year fall on fixed dates. This has the advantage of not only helping industry not having to close down on odd days in a week – they have long weekends instead – but workers are guaranteed these eight days. So if, for example, the 25th and 26th December fall on a weekend, the 27th and 28th December will become public holidays.


But then came the global economic crisis. Many people work for state-owned organisations, but suddenly many of those countries that depend on these industries have found themselves literally running out of money. Eventually, Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and Cyprus had to seek ‘bail-outs’ – that is, seeking financial support from the other Eurozone countries, the European Central Bank (ECB), or the International Monetary Fund (IMF).


However, Portugal went further. Since 1974, the country had allowed a lack of control in state-managed public works, with inflated bonuses and wages for top management and head officers between 1974 (the year of the Carnation Revolution) and 2010. Continuous and unnecessary recruitment policies boosted the number of redundant public servants. Risky credit, public debt creation, and European structural and cohesion funds (money from the European Union used to help development in the country, especially with transport and the environment) were mismanaged across almost four decades. When the global crisis disrupted the markets and the world economy, Portugal was one of the first and most affected economies.


So in 2013 a five-year hiatus began, during which two religious holidays and two public holidays would be cancelled. Those days were Republic Day (celebrating the end of the Monarchy - that is, ruled by a King or Queen) and the beginning of the Portuguese Republic) on October 1, All Saints Day on November 1, Corpus Christi (the Thursday after Trinity Sunday, which is the first Sunday after Pentecost, which is about seven weeks after Easter Sunday) and the Restoration of Independence on December 1 to celebrate the end of the Philippine Dynasty (1580–1640). All these were now regular working days. Portuguese daily newspaper Diario de Noticias reported that the Portuguese Catholic Church had claimed to reach an "exceptional understanding" with the country over the suspension. The decision to temporarily skip the religious holidays also involved some negotiations with the Vatican, reported the BBC. As a result, the country's leaders hoped that the 20 extra productive days over the next five years will give the country's GDP a boost and help to drive growth.


Like the other nations mentioned above, struggling Portugal agreed to a €78bn bailout from the European Central Bank, the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, and in return has been forced to implement strict austerity measures. But since then, Portugal has left the EU bailout mechanism without additional need for support as it had already regained complete access to lending markets back in May 2013.


Portugal still has many tough years ahead, with experts saying that it may take until 2040 for the country to pay off its EU loans and eventually reach a sustainable debt level of 60 percent – in other words, being able to pay off its debts while at the same time cutting down the amount of money it spends. In November 2015 Portugal had its first socialist government since the dictatorship was overthrown in 1974.  Although its leader has attempted to reassure EU leaders of his spending plans, there are still high rates of poverty, and government debt is at 130% of GDP. But there are plans to take the country slowly away from a mainly low-wage economy and focus on public healthcare, education and social security.


The new government is also expected to scale back the previous administration's programme of privatisation. So far, reinstating the missing public holidays has not been mentioned, although this comes up for review in 2018.

 

So these holidays may come back as originally proposed – but this may well depend on the economy.

.  

  1. According to the text, for what reasons are public holidays usually celebrated?

  2. Which European countries have the highest number of public holidays?

  3. How many public holidays does England have?

  4. What were Portugal’s problems when the global economic crisis hit?

  5. What public holidays did they cancel? Why?

  6. How many years have these days been cancelled for?

  7. When do experts predict that Portugal will pay off its EU debt?

  8. What happened in November 2015?

  9. Would you expect Poland to cut its holidays in an economic crisis? Why/why not?

WORDWISE
odd – occasional, incidental, or random
Queen’s Diamond jubilee – here, the sixtieth anniversary of an important event, in this case, when Elizabeth II became Queen after her father, the King, George VI died
holidays on fixed dates – here, public holidays that will always happen on a particular date in the calendar, for example, Christmas Day is always December 25
literally running out of money – here, a phrase to indicate that a country’s finances are in a situation that it has no more money to pay its workers or money that it owes other countries
state-managed public works – organisations that offer public services such as hospitals, and are employed directly by the government and are not owned by private organisations
inflated bonuses and wages – here, money given to people for good work, and salaries, that are much more than should be for the position
Carnation Revolution – a revolution against the government in Portugal on 25 April 1974 which originally ruled by making people obey the government strictly, and to not do so would be punished. The name was given from the fact that almost no shots were fired and carnations were given to the army men
redundant public servants – here, people who got positions of work in a company owned by the government that were simply not needed
public debt creation – how much a country owes to lenders outside of itself, but often by spending more than it has available, usually as a result of government leaders spending more than they take in via tax revenues
to mismanage/mismanaged – to manage or do an important job badly
to disrupt/disrupted – to prevent an event, system, or process by causing difficulties that prevent it from continuing or operating in a normal way
five-year hiatus – a pause for a five-year period in which nothing happens, or a gap where something is missing
to temporarily skip – to not do, to miss out something that usually happens regularly, but only for a short time and to start again at a later point

GDP – Gross Domestic Product, which is the total value of goods and services produced within a country in a year, not including its income from investments in other countries
to drive growth – here, to try and force a situation, in this case, an improvement in the economy
to implement strict austerity measures – to introduce a plan that in order to reduce a country’s economic problems, people's living standards are reduced, and to ensure that what has been planned is done and will be done
tough years ahead – here, the difficult years that will be coming in the future as a result of strict austerity measures and other policies to sort out a country’s economic situation
to overthrow/overthrown – to be removed by force
government debt – how much a country owes its lenders 
to scale back - to make something smaller in size, amount, or extent than it used to be
to reinstate/reinstating – to bring back something that was originally taken away, usually decided by law

 

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