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Friday, 23 August, 2002, 10:17 GMT 11:17 UK
Q&A: What are your holiday rights?

A report by the TUC has highlighted the plight of more than one million workers who are being either short-changed or cheated out of their holiday rights by their employers. So, what should workers be getting? Is your employer simply a scrooge or is it breaking the law?

What is the TUC saying?

According to research by the Trades Union Congress (TUC) - an analysis of the government's Labour Force Survey - about 850,000 Britons are missing out on time off.

This is because employers are making the most of a loophole in the working time regulations.

The Working Time Regulations came into force on 1 October 1998.

It is one of the most important pieces of employment legislation to grace the UK's shores in recent times, as it gave workers far greater employment rights.

What is the loophole?

The "loophole" means that in some circumstances, employers can count bank holidays as part of workers' minimum holiday entitlement.

Is this new?

No. This loophole has been known about for some time, but the research by the TUC is one of the first attempts to see how many employers are making the most of it.

So what are my rights?

Every worker, including those who work on a temporary basis or on a fixed-term contract, are entitled to 20 days' holiday (including bank holidays) each year from their employer.

Employers who count the UK's eight bank holidays within this 20 days are bad eggs in the TUC's eyes, but they may not be doing anything wrong.

The Department of Trade and Industry's regulatory guidance on the Working Time Regulations (WTR) says that bank holidays may be counted as part of the four weeks annual leave entitlement.

However, although it is legal to offer employers such a contract it will not always be legal to change existing contracts of employment to exploit the loophole.

What about those "cheated out" of holidays?

More worryingly, the report highlights the plight of about 400,000 employees who are getting less than 12 holidays a year.

Their employers are not only scrooges, but they could be breaking the law.

How do I get paid holiday?

The entitlement to paid annual leave begins on the first day of employment. This rule was changed after some bosses tried to avoid offering paid leave by giving their workers a series of 13-week contracts.

However, the employer can optionally use an accrual system whereby, during the first year of employment, the proportion of the leave which may actually be taken builds up over the year.

This builds up monthly in advance at the rate of one-twelfth of the annual entitlement each month.

For example, a part-timer who works three days a week and is still in his or her first month of employment would be able to take one day's leave.

What about other breaks?

The Working Time Regulations apply to full-time, part-time and casual workers.

Generally, you will be entitled to the following under the Working Time Regulations:

  • A 20-minute break during the working day if it exceeds six hours (Note: different rules apply if you are between the ages of 16 and 18)

  • A rest period between leaving work and returning of 11 uninterrupted hours

  • One period of 24 hours away from work every seven days

  • Further, you should not work more than eight hours during the night in any 24 hours.

Transport workers, seafarers and offshore workers, trainee junior doctors, armed forces and police, and domestic staff in private households are exempt from these rules.

The Working Time Regulations will be extended over the next three years to cover transport, offshore oil and gas workers, sea fishermen and junior doctors.

So who do I call?

If you need guidance on your rights at work, there are a number of help lines and websites where you can get useful information.

Two good places to start are the TUC website and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS) website.

The TUC has a "Know your rights" helpline (0870 600 4 882) - open between 8am to 10pm. Calls are charged at the national rate.

The DTI also has useful information about rights on its website.

See also:

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