With much of Britain poised to shut down for the next two weeks, spare a thought for the tens of thousands of vulnerable workers who will lose out this Christmas, the charity Citizens Advice has warned.
The problem-solving organisation has said many thousands of workers are being denied their legal entitlement to at least four weeks’ paid holiday a year, and many will be exploited over Christmas.
Its report Still wish you were here warned that the Government’s likely manifesto commitment at the coming General Election to increase workers’ entitlement to paid holiday will be pointless without tougher enforcement of the existing rules.
At the Labour Party conference in September, Prime Minister Tony Blair pledged to increase the statutory minimum entitlement to “four weeks plus Bank Holidays” if the Government wins a third term.
But, said Citizens Advice, employers use a range of excuses to wriggle out of giving the right amount of holiday.
These include saying they cannot afford it or that the worker is “only” part-time. Others simply are not aware of their legal obligations.
Many workers are too scared of being sacked to approach their employers about their rights, let alone go to an employment tribunal, it added.
The report backs up the charity’s call for a new basic employment rights enforcement body or Fair Employment Commission. The right to four weeks’ paid holiday extends to most workers, including part-time or fixed term workers or those in their first year of employment, and there is no qualifying age limit.
Millions of workers receive only this minimum entitlement, often including Bank Holidays, but worse still, tens of thousands more don’t even get this, it added.
Cases include a man from Dorset who sought advice who had been working full-time as a night porter in a local hotel for the past 15 years. In all that time he had never received any paid holiday.
And in Kent a working mother in a local fish and chip shop had never received any holiday pay or indeed any rest breaks during her nine-hour day.
Even though her employer had refused her request for a written statement of her terms and conditions, the woman said she was unwilling to take action because “she needed the job”.
Citizens Advice chief executive David Harker said: “Thousands of people will have their Christmas holidays spoiled this year because they won’t receive the holiday pay to which they are entitled by law.
“The opportunity to take paid time off from the demands of work clearly plays a major part in the good work-life balance that the Government has said it wants all workers to enjoy,” he added.
“An increase in the legal entitlement to holiday pay will not benefit the most vulnerable workers without tougher enforcement of the existing law. Only a proactive Fair Employment Commission can achieve this,” he concluded.