Paid leave is time off work for which the employee is paid, and which can be used for whatever the employee wishes, including holidays or family duties. There is a statutory entitlement to paid leave in most countries, and many employers offer more than the minimum required by law. Employees are required to give a certain amount of advance notice and other requirements may have to be met, such as ensuring a certain amount of staff cover. Part-time workers are entitled to the proportion of annual leave corresponding to the hours they work per week.
With the spread of factory work after the industrial revolution, people in Britain ceased to enjoy the seasonal breaks from work that farming offered. Most workers had the Sunday off, but apart from that the only other time off was during the religious holidays of Christmas and Good Friday. In 1871, the Bank Holiday Act gave workers a few paid holidays each year - four new public holidays were introduced in England and Wales, and 3 new ones in Scotland.
In the 19th century and early decades of the 20th century, additional paid leave was only granted to senior managers and supervisors in UK factories. At the end of the 19th century most people had no paid holidays except bank holidays. The Trade Union Congress first began to campaign for a paid holiday for workers in 1911.
In the 1930s, paid vacation time became a very important issue for workers. Trade unions raised this issue through campaigns and lobbied the government of the day for a two week paid holiday. In 1936, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Holidays with Pay Convention (no.52), which called for an annual holiday with pay of at least six working days after one year of continuous service. This was not ratified by the United Kingdom.
Following pressure from trade unions on behalf of their members, in the latter half of the 1930s, European workers were typically granted an average of one to two weeks of paid vacation. Following a general strike, the French government signed the Matignon Accords in 1936, which mandated 12 days (2 weeks) of paid leave for workers each year. In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act 1938 gave those workers whose minimum rates of wages were fixed by trade boards, the right to one weeks’ holiday per year. This was the first law on paid leave in this country, but it fell short of the two weeks demanded by the trade unions and did not cover all workers.
The idea of paid leave and the importance of leisure was reiterated in 1948 by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, ‘Everyone has the right to rest and leisure, including reasonable limitation of working hours and periodic holidays with pay’ (Article 24). In 1970, the ILO convention recommended a minimum of three weeks’ annual paid leave (No. 132).
By the 1970s, there was growing international recognition of the need for a statutory paid annual leave. Many countries in Western Europe passed new legislation concerning minimum paid vacations of two to three weeks. Providing statutory rights to four weeks’ paid annual leave for workers was the subject of much debate in the European Union through the 1980s.
The EU Working Time Directive stipulating four weeks’ annual leave was agreed on 23 November 1993, with the United Kingdom abstaining from the vote. The UK government did not implement a general statutory right to paid annual leave but continued to leave it to individual and collective bargaining in the workplace. However, on 1st October 1998, the Labour government in the UK implemented the EU Working Time Regulations granting workers 4 week’s annual leave.
The statutory minimum annual leave for full-time employees in the UK is 20 days and 8 national holidays (28 days in all). Self employed workers are not entitled to annual paid leave. Workers who are in the armed forces, the police or the civil protection services don’t have the right to statutory holiday.
There has been great progress on the issue of paid leave, but this entitlement is still not available to all workers in the UK. One group of workers who are regularly deprived of paid annual leave are domestic workers employed in private households. Kalayaan, a charity working to support the rights of migrant domestic workers has conducted research which documents the widespread denial of annual leave entitlements by employers. Other categories of workers including agency workers, home based workers and migrant workers also find that their statutory right to annual leave is not always enforced. Home workers who are on a piece rate cannot get paid leave.
Additionally, in some sectors, workers do not claim all of their annual leave entitlements because of the existing cultural attitudes and pressure - explicit or more often implicit - that prevents them from taking all the annual leave they are entitled to.