A quarter of UK workers got extra paid holiday through European laws on minimum paid holiday and could lose those rights if Britain votes to leave the European Union, the TUC has warned.
The TUC 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.
It says 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, says the TUC.
Prior to the EU rules, trade unions had negotiated contractual paid holidays for many workers. But it says it was only when four 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. It says 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”.
It adds: “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.”