Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Labour Party, has recently revealed proposals to create four new UK-Wide Bank holidays if the Labour party wins the snap General Election to be held on 8 June.
In a bid to salvage votes, the Labour leader announced the Bank holidays would mark the patron saint days of each home nation on St David’s Day (1st March), St Patrick’s Day (17th March), St George’s Day (23rd April) and St Andrew’s Day (30th November). If successful, it would be the first time new and permanent bank holidays have been introduced in the UK since 1978.
Mr Corbyn stated his policy would “give workers the break they deserve” while simultaneously uniting the 4 nations whose bonds have been strained by the vote to leave the European Union (EU).
What, however, would this mean in practice, for the worker, if at all anything?
If Labour were to win the election, this would bring the number of Bank and Public holidays in Northern Ireland to 13 days, including St Patrick’s day. It is not yet clear whether these 3 extra days would be included within the 28 days that full time workers are currently entitled to, however it is anticipated that it would not. In practice, therefore, very little would change for the UK worker if this proposal were implemented.
There is a common misperception amongst UK workers that they have a legal entitlement to paid Bank and Public holidays as days off. This is not the case.
If the employer so chooses to close its business or organisation on a Public/Bank holiday it is a matter for them, and it will usually be deducted from the worker’s annual leave quota for that year. If the employer does not close for that day, the worker can request the day as annual leave and await authorisation in the usual manner. It may be refused of course.
At the moment, under the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 1998 (as amended), Northern Irish workers are entitled to the statutory minimum of 5.6 weeks paid leave (pro rata) in any leave year, which can include Bank and Public holidays. For a full time worker working a 5 or 6 day week, this equates to 28 days leave.
28 days is the legal minimum that an employer must provide to a full time worker; failure to do so would contravene the Working Time Regulations and may result in a claim to an Industrial Tribunal, to include a claim for Unlawful Deduction of Wages.
An employer can of course provide more annual leave days than the minimum; this will usually be provided for within the Contract of Employment, or if one does not exist, by way of custom and practice.
Both employers and employees should also be aware that annual leave accrues whilst an employee is off on long term sickness. However, the only time an employee can be paid in lieu of their annual leave is when the employment is terminated and the employee has not taken all his accrued leave at the time of termination.
Niall McMullan is an Associate Partner in the Employment Law department of Worthingtons solicitors and can be contacted on 02890434015