For many, including the emergency services, bank holidays mean more work not less but I hope that everyone who could enjoyed the break.
When England’s economy was based on the land, holidays were generally local saints days. Agricultural “downtime” – was marked with long festivities – for all twelve days of Christmas no work was done other than the care of animals.
This local pattern of holidays changed with the industrial revolution. Parliament was concerned that with machines capable of constant production staff were being mistreated. Christmas Day had always been a “common law” holiday (even if no one told Scrooge!) but Parliament enacted that there should be additional paid “bank holidays”. The “Wakes Weeks” when entire towns would close down and head to the same seaside resort were born.
There is now a suggestion that we should create an extra four bank holidays, matching the Saints days of the U.K: 1st March (David), 17th March (Patrick), 23rd April (George) and 30th November (Andrew). Aside from whether anyone really wants three days all so close together and right next to Easter (most businesses certainly wouldn’t) this sounds incredibly old fashioned. The last “new” permanent bank holiday created was “May Day” in 1978 at a time when the U.K. was on its knees economically: it was also the last decade of mass employment in heavy industry. Four extra days in which (in theory) the country shuts up shop hardly sends a message that Britain is “open for business”.
We do have fewer public bank holidays in the U.K. than elsewhere but on average more days holiday.
Extra compulsory days leave would be reflected in fewer days when employees can choose themselves when to take holiday. I suspect on that basis there would be little demand for extra bank holidays (especially for commuters if that means more days in which the trains always seem to be “in the wrong place” come the return to work…)
If there is scope to do more for legislation on holidays my priority would be those on contracts with no guaranteed holiday. There is a role for flexible arrangements between individuals and employers but it’s important that these relationships are not abused. I suspect this is a better target for our attention.
Photo caption: A question and answer session at the “News Club” in Arunside School which has recently had a very positive “Good” Ofsted inspection.