Singapore, 13 February 2015
WE APPRECIATE the perspectives shared by many Singaporeans on Thaipusam. 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.
The decision on which public holidays to give up was reached only after careful consultation with religious groups.
Muslims chose to give up Prophet Muhammad'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.
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.
The 11 public holidays that we now enjoy is neither high nor low when compared with 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.
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.
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 among both Chinese and Indians, we have citizens of different faiths. 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.
We have learnt to live harmoniously with one another, with everyone making some compromises for the greater good. This has served us well for five decades and remains the best way for Singapore.
WorkPlace Policy and Strategy Division
Ministry of Manpower