It's the law: Statutory holiday entitlement

Six million staff could benefit from plans to increase the minimum entitlement employers must offer.

The Government has announced plans to increase the minimum holiday entitlement under the Working Time Regulations from 20 days to 28 days a year. It may surprise you to learn that there is no statutory right for employees to have a holiday on bank or public holidays. Employers are allowed to include bank holidays in the statutory holiday entitlement, which means some employees receive, in effect, only 12 days' holiday per year once the eight public and bank holidays are factored in.

The Government's intention in increasing the holiday entitlement is to compensate those people whose employers include bank holidays in the 20-day entitlement.

The Government anticipates that about six million workers will benefit from the proposals because the planned increase will require employers who do include bank holidays in their holiday entitlement to increase what they offer to staff. Employers who already allow workers to take bank holidays on top of the minimum holiday entitlement - whose staff get at least 20 days plus bank holidays - will not be affected directly by the changes. Another intention of the Government is that what it calls "reputable businesses" will be able to compete on a more level playing field when organisations currently limiting their workers' entitlement to the lowest possible level are required to increase it.

The proposed changes will move the UK closer to other European nations, where workers enjoy a higher amount of annual leave. In Ireland, for example, workers are entitled to 29 days' leave a year; in Austria, workers receive 38 days' leave.

Assuming the changes are introduced as the Government intends, employers whose current holiday offer is fewer than 28 days will have to increase it from the relevant date and make the appropriate changes to their employees' contracts and their own policies.

The changes will be introduced in two phases. It is currently envisaged that the entitlement will rise to 24 days from 1 October 2007 and to 28 days from 1 October 2008.

• Emma Burrows is a partner and head of the employment group at Trowers & Hamlins solicitors.

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