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Last Updated: Friday, 29 February 2008, 00:24 GMT
Who owns today?

By Steve Tomkins

It comes but once every four years and this 29 February some workers are being given the extra day as holiday. Employers won't like the idea, but we tend to look at additional time as a gift.

Imagine that to adjust our timekeeping, 10 minutes had to be added to one day each year. You would expect them to be 10 minutes of free time, yours to spend as you will. You'd be miffed if they were added to one of your working hours, getting 10 minutes more work out of you for no extra money.

But is this what leap year does to us? If you're on an annual salary, you will get the same pay as normal this year, while working one extra day. Is 29 February just another working Friday, or a sneaky bonus for your employer? Who does 29 February belong to?

Waddesdon Manor
He gets the day off
If you're starting to feel like a holiday today, you might be interested to hear that the National Trust has granted its whole workforce the day off. Calling it the Great Green Leap Day, they are asking staff to use it for the environment. "We're giving them this opportunity to look at steps to green their own lives at home," explains Mike Holland of the Trust. "Anything from converting to greener energy to starting a compost heap."

Just how many will be converting, composting and otherwise greening and how many will be shopping is hard to say, but Holland hopes most of the workforce have caught the vision. He says it would be good to see other workplaces catch it, so if you can just wait till 2012 there might be one for you too.

The National Trust does not want anyone to feel short-changed by their own employer. But if you do feel that way, then according to Steve Taylor, the author of Making Time: Why Time Seems to Pass at Different Speeds and How to Control It, there may be something in it.

Time as a 'gift'

The book argues that the way we perceive time is more real than the way we measure it. How else does time pass, except in our consciousness - sometimes faster, sometimes slower? When it comes to the extra day, like the extra hour when the clocks go back, he says, "We look on that time as a gift - just as in other ways we try to subtract time, like when we're on a long journey and immerse attention in a book".

Every fourth year is a leap year, unless it is divisible by 100 and not by 400
So 2000 was a leap year, as was, for those who can't remember it, 1600
1700, 1800 and 1900 were not leap years
The next such non-leap year is 2100
Perhaps, he agrees, employers may be getting an extra unpaid day out of us. "But then in a sense," he adds, "they own us already. We give half our waking hours to them, voluntarily, and our time is our lives - we're literally giving ourselves away." A thought which makes you want to hold on to any disputed days tighter than ever.

Where did this extra day come from in the first place? We need the leap day because of the deplorable untidiness of our solar system. One of our earth years (a complete orbit around the sun) does not take an exact number of whole days (one complete spin of the earth on its axis). In fact, it takes 365.2422 days, give or take.

The leap year was introduced by Julius Caesar in 46BC, to make the calendar tidier. The extra day every fourth year made the average year 365.25 days long.

Time stealer

This was still about 12 minutes longer than the solar year, which you can get away with on the short term, but in 1267 a monk called Roger Bacon noticed that the calendar had slipped nine days in the 13 intervening centuries.

Gregory XIII
Gregory XIII: Said to have provoked protests after 'stealing' 10 days
It then took the church until 1582 to accept that it was celebrating Easter on the wrong week. That year Pope Gregory XIII adjusted the calendar, introducing the system we go by today: every fourth year is a leap year, unless it is divisible by 100 and not by 400. This makes the year 365.2425 days, which is still a little under 26 seconds too long, but nothing to fret about.

As a one off, Gregory's reform also skipped the 10 days they had gained since Caesar's time, jumping from 4 to 15 October 1582. It is said that this provoked demonstrations from people demanding their stolen days back.

So how about demos today, to reclaim the working day pinched from employees by their employers? Go for it, brothers and sisters, but the TUC will not be organising it.

A spokesperson says: "Salaried workers usually receive their annual salary in twelve monthly payments and know when they accept a job that some months are longer than others and that leap years come round once every so often. Indeed, leap years have been with us 1582, so the UK workforce has had a while to get used to the idea of an extra day every four years."

OK, off you go then, back to work.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

Why is everyone always looking for something free? Those of us who get paid monthly get the same amount each month whether that month contains 30 or 31 days or in February just 28 days - I never hear anyone say oh aren't I lucky that I get extra pay every day in February and just one year in four this is slightly less than the others or one year in four I get slightly less pay for each day but three out of the four I could look at it as getting slightly more. It is about time people counted "their blessings" and stpooed this constant moaning and joing the ME ME ME society we are developing into!

It is my fiancee's birthday today! Only one birthday every four years... Happy 6th Birthday Anne!
Daniel, London

Well one should this handle individually. When concluding the working contract a worker on his demand should be granted an additional holiday every four years. That gives the employer the additional information that the worker intends to stay in the firm at last up to the next 29th of February.
Dr. Glücksmann, Berlin, Germany

My wife and I celebrate St Oswald's Day every four years by deciding how we want to spend the day and then doing it. Sometimes it involves presents, sometimes it involves family. This year we're going to spend the day making a meal to remember (if she ever gets out of bed). I like St Oswald's day, it's not bogged down in traditions set by the Coca-Cola corp. Unfortunataly as soon as everyone starts doing it it'll become Tesco's-day or something similar.
Graham Bell, Braunton, Devon

Although the Catholic Church all changed together, other countries changed in their own time, the British Empire (and hence the US) waited until Sep 1752. Russia waited until after the revolution in 1918. Type "cal 9 1752" on a "unix" style system and you will get :-

September 1752
Su Mo Tu We Th Fr Sa
_______1 2 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

The issue of workers pay was a *very* serious issue - although in the case of lost days the issue was not wanting to pay tax for 12 months when you only got paid for 11.5 month. The start of the calendar & tax year had traditionally been Lady Day (the day Mary was told she was carrying Jesus) the Feast of the Annunciation - 25th March. However, the workers didn't want to be diddled so the start of the year was shifted about 2 weeks later to the 4th April - which is why we still use that as the start of the tax year to this day.
James Stevens, Windsor

Given that all months (except Feb) contain 30/31 days the 28 or 29 days in Feb suggest that employers are being short changed. Perhaps for this shorter month salaries should be reduced accordingly.
Alex, Diss

I think it should be given as a bank holiday with pay, we get little enough holiday as it is compared to other countries.
Elaine , Leeds

It took more than 1300 years from Julius Caesar's introduction of the leap year before Francis Bacon noticed our times were slipping away by seconds in 1267. Now 426 years after Gregory XIII, we must have lost time with no-one noticing. Therefore let's bring out the calendar and the calculator to do the maths once more; there might be something in it for everyone especially those who have worked for the same company for that long.
Dandy Ahuruonye, Dublin, Ireland.

Temps, rejoice! For once, we have got one over our "permanent member of staff" brethren. Remind them of this at every opportunity. It'll make you more popular.
Jonathan Barnett, London, UK

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