Progress | Centre-left Labour politics

Why we need to change bank holidays

The timetable of bank and public holidays in this country is archaic and unfair. Michael Edenborough QC suggests how we change it. 

We have come to the end of our bank holiday run. In a period of slightly over five months we have seven of the eight bank and public holidays that the public enjoy in England and Wales. From now until Christmas, there is only the Summer Bank Holiday. Five of the eight Holidays are either directly or historically linked to events in the Christian calendar. Their unequal distribution throughout the year, the moveable nature of those Holidays that relate to Easter, and their relationship to only one religion all call for the system to be revised.

It has been suggested that four new public holidays should be introduced, on St David’s Day (1st March), St Patrick’s Day (17th March), St George’s Day (23rd April) and St Andrew’s Day (30th November). Such a suggestion, while clearly a popular gesture, would only exacerbate the current situation. Further, as it is suggested that these holidays will fall on a fixed date, they will fall during the week in most years, but be lost for some if they fall at the weekend in other years. This proposal suffers from other manifest problems, such as the fact that these holidays would most likely be deduced from a person’s overall holiday allowance and also reduce one’s choice of when to take time off.

However, if there were one long weekend (Friday to Monday inclusive) at the end of every quarter (or every two months to accommodate the four extra days), then the proposed public holiday weekends would be evenly spaced, fixed, and independent of any political or religious connections. If such a proposal were coupled with provisions to protect workers who are wrongly forced to adopt self-employed status by those giving them work, a statutory increase in holiday entitlement for all, a right to have time off in lieu if one worked on a public holiday, and a right to take off any day that had a religious significance for the person concerned, then this combination of proposals would remove many of the present problems associated with bank and public holidays.

An even more radical solution would be to abolish bank and public holidays completely, but provide for extra holiday entitlement that could be taken when wanted – this would help avoid the increase in prices that accompanies prescribed holiday periods.

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Michael Edenborough is a QC and Progress member.

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Photo: by william and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

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Michael Edenborough

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