Looking forward to your Bank Holiday?

It could be less secure than you think…

If you’re one of the people lucky enough to get all four days off this Easter bank holiday, you’re probably looking forward to time with family and friends, recharging and maybe knocking a few items off the DIY to-do list.

Of course, we mustn’t forget the thousands of dedicated public service workers who will still be on the job – keeping our NHS and other essential services going. Nor can we ignore the millions of workers on zero-hour or other insecure contracts who may not have a meaningful choice on their working hours.

But it’s clear that the right to paid time off is cherished by workers across the UK. Paid holiday is a struggle trade unionists fought hard in the past. Industry by industry, workplace by workplace, we made progress. Clever employers understood the value of well-rested staff – but too often it was an uphill battle to get a fair deal for employees.

It 1998 it all changed. Why? Because the European Union Working Time Directive came into force in the UK – making it a legal right for all employees to have paid holiday. Six million people benefited, including two million workers – mainly low paid women – who’d had zero paid holiday beforehand.

Let’s be clear: EU rules on paid holiday didn’t come out of nowhere. It wasn’t a blessing granted by benevolent employers – UK law had to be changed in 2009 because too many managers weren’t paying staff for public holidays. Neither was the change a common feature of rich countries. After all, workers in the US still have no right to paid holiday!

This law came from determined campaigning by trade unions across Europe. Together, they made sure that the European project included strong protections for workers as well as freedoms for businesses. By setting standards across Europe, a level playing field was created that benefits staff and employers.

Would we keep these rights, including paid holiday, if Britain were to leave the European Union? There would certainly be a pressure for companies to “race to the bottom”, as they did before the EU regulations. If paid holiday was put on the negotiating table by your management, would you be able to stop them reducing it?

We can’t be sure of the answers to these questions, but as some of us go into a long weekend of paid holiday, and count down the days until the EU In / Out vote on June 23, it’s all worth thinking about and discussing with those around you.

— Joanne Kaye, UNISON South West Regional Secretary

PS: Remember, UNISON is consulting branches on the EU referendum until April 5 – contact your branch to get your voice heard!