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Ready for a holiday? Here's why millions won't get one

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Unrealistic workloads and unscrupulous bosses mean over two million UK workers will be cheated out of holiday leave this year

Are you getting as much paid holiday as you should?

As millions get ready for their summer holidays, we can reveal today that about one in twelve are getting less holiday time than the law stipulates.

Our research shows that 2.2 million working people are getting fewer paid holidays than they are entitled to – and of this number 1.2 million are getting no paid holidays at all.

In total, working people are losing more than £3 billion of holiday pay each year.

Employers have no excuse for robbing staff of their well-earned leave – UK workers put in billions of hours of unpaid overtime as it is.

That’s why we’re calling for the government to toughen up enforcement to stop bosses cheating staff out of their leave.

What’s the legal minimum?

Nobody should be getting less than the minimum holiday entitlement.

The Working Time Regulations give workers a statutory minimum of 28 days paid annual leave (this may include public holidays), or the pro-rata number for those who work less than 5 days a week.

This has been the law since 2009, when trade unions persuaded the government to increase the Europe-wide minimum standard of four weeks leave.

The law applies to “workers”, which is a legal term that includes employees, agency workers and some people who may be self-employed for tax purposes but are not actually running their own business.

Like the National Minimum Wage, the 5.6 weeks paid holiday entitlement is the legal minimum. But most of us get more through our employment contracts and trade union bargaining.

In fact, the average UK holiday entitlement including public holidays is 33.5 days – that’s more than a week above the statutory minimum.

Who’s missing out?

Our analysis shows that:

  • 9.2% of female workers and 7.2% of male workers are losing out
  • The sectors where employees are most likely to lose out are agriculture (14.9%), mining and quarrying (14.7%), accommodation and food (13.9%), and education (11.3%)
  • But because other sectors employ more people, the sectors with the highest numbers of staff losing out are retail (348,000), education (342,000), and health and social care (291,000)

So what’s going wrong?

We’ve identified three reasons why people are missing out on the legal minimum:

  • Many working people are being set unrealistic workloads that give them no time to take leave. So they simply don’t ask for their holidays because they fear falling behind at work. One office worker told me that it was better to lose leave than imagine “the depth of **** that I would be in if I took a week off”.
  • Some employers keep on denying holiday requests or simply don’t respond to them at all. If this goes on until the end of the leave year then the entitlement is lost.
  • Other employers have simply not kept up to date with the law. Even now, nine years after the increase in entitlement, I sometimes see contracts that do not offer the legal minimum.

Time to get tough

How come so many employers have been able to get away with not meeting the legal minimum?

Because if the boss just won’t play ball, workers can only enforce their statutory holiday rights by taking a case to an Employment Tribunal.

This is daunting for many, who fear that it will spoil their relationship with their employer.

So in practice, the law on holidays is mainly enforced in workplaces where there are trade unions or by people who no longer fear that insisting on their rights will spoil relations at work, such as those already leaving their job.

Something clearly has to change if everyone is to get the holiday they’re entitled to.

That’s why we want to see active enforcement by a government agency, preferably HMRC, who already enforce the National Minimum Wage.

Our proposal was picked up by the government’s advisor Matthew Taylor in his Review of Modern Working Practices (2017) and then mooted in the government’s consultation on the enforcement of employment rights in February 2018.

Since then, things have gone quiet. But with 2.2 million people missing out on some of their holidays this year, the government must act now to stop this happening again.

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