By Brendan Barber
TUC General Secretary
The weather in the UK does not always keep holidaymakers happy
Paid holidays are an important part of working life in the UK.
Whether we choose to broaden our horizons and go away or simply stay at home and spend some time with our friends and family, it is good to get away from the daily routine of work for a while.
Holidays play an essential part in keeping us fit for work. We all need to recharge our mental and physical batteries from time to time.
Paid holidays are a part of our income. However, some employers will not pay what they should, so you should know your holiday rights.
Unions have campaigned for an increase in the amount of statutory paid annual leave.
In October 2007, the minimum entitlement was increased to 4.8 weeks paid holiday from four weeks. This works out at 24 days for a full-time worker, with a pro-rata entitlement for part-time workers too.
From April 2009 this will increase to 5.6 weeks.
Direct employees, temporary agency workers and some workers who are self-employed for tax purposes are all entitled to statutory paid annual leave. This must be paid at your normal daily rate of pay, excluding overtime.
While one in five people get the minimum amount of paid holiday, the average full-time employee gets much more at 33 days leave including bank holidays.
Union members are even better off on average, getting 37 days leave.
You can find details of your personal leave rights in your contract or staff handbook.
When can I take my holidays?
Your employer can tell you when to take your leave and can rule out holidays at certain busy times of the year.
Not everybody is able to afford a holiday in the sun
Your contract may specify when you can take leave, but it is most likely to say that the timing of leave will be "by mutual agreement".
There is a legal period of notice to book leave and for an employer to answer the request, unless your contract gives you better rights.
You should give your employer a period of notice that is twice as long as the holiday that you want to take. For example, two week's notice for one week's leave.
Your employer must then answer while there is still as much time before your leave starts as the length of the leave itself. For example, they should answer at least one week before you are due to take one week's leave.
Employers often waive these requirements in order to keep their employees' goodwill.
Sell-backs and carry-overs
Your contract may allow you to sell back some leave days to your employer.
However, this should always be a mutual decision, and can only be done with days that are surplus to the legal minimum of 4.8 weeks.
Your contract may also allow you to carry over some leave days into your next leave year.
Again, this can only be done with days that are in addition to the legal minimum.
However, until April 2009 you can carry over leave that is surplus to four weeks of your annual leave.
You can carry over any entitlement that goes beyond the legal minimum if your employer agrees.
There is no legal right to take public holidays as time off or to be paid for them. However, most of us do get paid for public holidays through our contracts.
Unions were influential in establishing public holidays and increasing their number. We helped to create New Year's Day and May Day in the 1970s.
We are now campaigning for a new Community Day holiday in October to celebrate volunteering and community groups.
If an employer is breaking your leave rights, it is worth talking to them first. As the law has changed recently, they may just be making a genuine mistake.
Unfortunately, some employers deliberately cheat their workers out of their holiday pay.
If your boss won't pay up, you should talk to your union. The TUC's Know Your Rights Line can put you in touch with an appropriate union if you want to join.
Both legal and contractual holiday rights can be enforced by taking a case to an Employment Tribunal.
Get advice from your union or the conciliation service Acas before making a claim.
The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by the BBC unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.