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Thaipusam as public holiday: MOM replies

  • The Straits Times (14 February 2015): Thaipusam as public holiday: MOM replies
  • TODAY (14 February 2015): Impractical to make all key festivals public holidays
  • The Straits Times (10 February 2015): Review public holidays to reflect societal change
  • TODAY (11 February 2015): Reinstate some public holidays

Thaipusam as public holiday: MOM replies
- The Straits Times, 14 February 2015
Impractical to make all key festivals public holidays
- TODAY, 14 February 2015

  1. We appreciate the perspectives shared by many Singaporeans on Thaipusam.
  2. As many have noted, Thaipusam was a public holiday until 1968. Faced with the British withdrawal and the need to compete in global markets, the government decided to reduce the total number of public holidays, among other things.
  3. The decision on which public holidays to give up was reached only after careful consultation with religious groups. Muslims chose to give up Prophet Muhamed’s Birthday as well as an extra day for Hari Raya Puasa. Christians chose to give up the Saturday after Good Friday and Easter Monday. Hindus had to choose between Thaipusam and Deepavali, and chose the latter.
  4. Buddhists, who comprised the largest faith and had only one public holiday to begin with, Vesak Day, were not asked to give it up. Some groups continued to celebrate their important religious occasions, such as Vesakhi for the Sikhs and Lao-Tzu’s Birthday for the Taoists, without these being public holidays.
  5. The 11 public holidays that we now enjoy is neither high nor low when compared to other countries. New Zealanders, Canadians and the French enjoy the same number. Malaysia and Indonesia enjoy more days, but we have a few more than developed countries like Holland , Britain and Germany.
  6. But beyond numbers and economics, our calendar of public holidays is a reflection of our multi-ethnic, multi-religious society. There is much value and meaning attached to each of our festivals, including Thaipusam, both among that particular group and Singaporeans generally.
  7. But any move to reinstate any one festival as a public holiday will invite competing claims, and necessitate considerable renegotiation with all communities. Balancing the wishes of each community will not be a simple matter. Neither can we simply re-allocate public holidays by ethnic group, as amongst both Chinese and Indians we have citizens of different faiths.
  8. While we will ensure that all Singaporeans can practise their faiths freely, we cannot make all important festivals of all faiths public holidays. But it must always be possible for Singaporeans to make arrangements to observe their respective religious festivals, and we encourage all employers to show understanding and flexibility in this regard.
  9. We have learnt to live harmoniously with each other, with everyone making some compromises for the greater good. This has served us well for five decades and remains the best way for Singapore.

Review public holidays to reflect societal change
- The Straits Times, 10 February 2015

My mother-in-law recently recalled her childhood years and her fond memories of accompanying the kavadi processions during Thaipusam from Petain Road to Tank Road.

Although she is not a Hindu, she enjoyed the sounds and colours of the festivities at a time when Thaipusam was an official public holiday. This was, and should be, the multiculturalism that makes Singapore exceptional. I was shocked to read that this, along with other events, like Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, were removed as public holidays as part of the Government’s plans to improve productivity (“Holidays cut after consultations”; last Saturday).

From 16, Singapore now has 11 public holidays. Suggestions to reinstate Thaipusam have been rejected with the reason that it would adversely impact business cost. The argument for the reduction of the number of public holidays was based on the premise of a Third World city-state which desperately needed to attract foreign investment by offering a “hard-working” workforce. Now, five decades later, it is a completely different environment.

For a country that places paramount emphasis on community bonding and multiculturalism, and for a First World economy and society with a shrinking birth rate due to a workforce that has one of the longest working hours in the world, I do not see why this argument should still hold.

Reinstate some public holidays
- TODAY, 11 February 2015

As a student in the 1960s, I remember the official public holidays for Thaipusam, Easter Monday and Prophet Muhammad’s birthday, which Singapore removed to improve productivity.

Many countries observe these holidays, but our younger generation, of all races, do not know the significance of these festivities.

Reinstating them as public holidays would enhance community bonding and Singapore’s proud multiculturalism, which foreigners working here would also get to know more about, help workers to de-stress and also ease traffic congestion during the
Thaipusam procession.

There is no better time than our SG50 celebrations to relive at least some of these holidays for everyone to appreciate.