Issue date
12 Apr 2016

12 April 2016

New analysis published by the TUC today (Tuesday) reveals that 1 in 4 UK workers (7.4 million) got extra paid holiday through European laws. But the TUC warns that the hard-won right to holiday pay could be lost if Britain votes to leave the European Union, with many people at risk of losing some or all of their paid leave.

The analysis shows that since Europe guaranteed minimum paid holiday rights in 1998, more than 7 million workers (a quarter of the employed workforce) have gained on average 13 days more paid annual leave each.

Since 1998, that amounts to 1.5 billion days more paid leave for British workers – the equivalent of 96 million days a year.

Women have benefited the most with 4.7 million getting more paid holidays, compared to 2.7 million men. And 4.2 million part-time workers have seen their paid holiday entitlement increase.

Prior to the EU rules, trade unions had negotiated contractual paid holidays for many workers. But it was only when 4 weeks’ paid annual leave became a legal right that millions of other workers started to benefit.

The TUC warns that, following a vote to leave the EU, the government would be able to decide whether or not to keep protections derived from EU laws. There is no guarantee that they would keep paid holiday entitlements at their current level, or at all – not least as the trend in the workplace is towards greater flexibility and casualisation, and some employers continue to complain bitterly about the supposed cost of basic worker protections.

Given the extent of the gains for many workers, it seems highly likely that some workers would find their holiday rights squeezed if the EU minimum standard was removed. If any loopholes were opened, unscrupulous employers would start opting out of paid holiday entitlements and the trend could spread across the labour market. 

Family holidays could be at particular risk, given the number of women who have benefited from the legal right to paid leave.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said:

“Millions of working people enjoyed paid holidays in their job for the first time thanks to the rights we won from Europe. And millions more got extra time off to spend with their children and their friends, go away with the family or simply have a well-earned break.

“Decent amounts of holiday pay for all is a relatively recent win, fought for by generations of trade unionists, and guaranteed by the EU. We can’t take it for granted.

“But voting to leave the EU risks the paid holidays of millions. We know that some of the biggest cheerleaders for Brexit see protections for ordinary British workers – like paid holiday – as just red tape to be binned. And we know that bad bosses are rubbing their hands with glee at the prospect of being able to cut workers’ hard-won entitlements. 

“The risk to paid holidays just shows that voting to leave the EU is a step into the unknown for everyone who works for a living.” 


1.The analysis shows that:

  • In 2015, 7,435,000 people had more paid leave than they would have done under the previous rules because of EU working time rights.
  • Of these, 3,187,000 would have had no legal right to paid annual leave entitlement at all without EU rights.
  • The other 4,248,000 would have had a right to some paid leave, but less than the four weeks that they became entitled to thanks to the WTD.

Full details are in the table below:

Employee category

Would have had no paid  holiday (000s)

Would have had

1-19 days paid holiday (000s)

All gainers (000s)

All employees
















FT men




PT men








FT women




PT women




Source: ONS

2.The TUC analysis uses ONS Labour Force Survey data from summer 1998 and summer 2015. Previous TUC research using the summer 1998 data had found that at least 6.4 million UK workers gained increased annual leave entitlement from the introduction of the WTR. The TUC analysis adjusted the 1998 figure in proportion to the growth in size of the overall workforce from summer 1998 to summer 2015.

3.The Working Time Regulations (WTR), which implemented the EU Working Time directive (WTD), phased in minimum requirements on holiday rights. A minimum of three weeks’ paid leave was required from November 1998, and a minimum of four weeks’ paid leave was required from 23 November 1999.

4.Immediately before the WTD, the trend for contractual holiday entitlement in the UK had been getting worse. The TUC says this was largely a consequence of the government scrapping wages councils in 1993, which set pay and holiday entitlements in low-paid industries like retail and hotels. The subsequent growth of part-time work – and the casualisation of the labour force through practices like zero hour contracts – also suggests that, without the EU rules, holiday entitlements in the UK would have got worse, not better.

  1. All TUC press releases can be found at

6.Follow the TUC on twitter @The_TUC and follow the TUC press team @tucnews