The government has begun a consultation exercise on plans to increase the statutory amount of annual leave from 20 to 28 days by including bank holidays.
Although the vast majority of companies offer staff above the minimum requirement of 20 days paid annual leave, it is still technically legal for employers to offer just 12 days and include the eight bank holidays in order to bring the total to the statutory four weeks a year.
Richard Nicolle, partner in the employment and benefits practice at law firm Denton Wilde Sapte, explained: "It is generally employers which provide less advantageous conditions for their workers which are including the bank holiday days into the minimum statutory requirement. "The new proposal is really what should have been happening already. In some ways, it was the unwritten intention of the [1998 Working Time Regulations]."
But, if given the go ahead, the proposed rules may be difficult to enforce because employees may not be aware of their new rights. "This is not going to affect the mainstream business, it is really targeting the black economy. Although employees working in poor conditions are entitled to the extra holiday, they may not have the inclination that they have these rights," said Nicolle. The government has proposed to phase in the new rules from 1 October 2007, when the total statutory holiday will move to 24 days.
Views are being sought on when the remaining four days should be phased in. Government proposals are that this will occur by October 2009. Employers have until 22 September to respond to the consultation.