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Thousands of workers denied legal right to paid holiday, says CAB report

21 April 2011

As most British workers look forward to enjoying an extra bank holiday to celebrate the royal wedding, a new report from national charity Citizens Advice reveals that tens of thousands of workers in low paid, low skilled jobs are being denied their legal right to take time off.

Give us a break!*, based on evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales, reveals that denial of paid holiday entitlement is widespread, especially among small employers in low-profitability sectors of the economy. While most working people take their right to paid holidays for granted, many others are forced to work all year without a break, or only allowed unpaid leave. In the three years 2007 - 2010 CAB advisers dealt with 87,725 such cases.

Most of those losing out on the statutory minimum paid holiday entitlement of 20 days plus bank holidays are doing unglamorous but essential jobs in small, non-unionised workplaces such as care homes, hairdressers, bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. Others work in building and decorating, clothing and food processing factories, or contract cleaning. The majority are women, many juggling part-time work with family commitments.

The report finds that while some non-compliance stems from a lack of awareness and understanding of the law, much appears to be deliberate, with rogue employers using a range of excuses to avoid meeting their legal obligations to their workforce.

Often those affected are unaware of their basic workplace rights. Others decide against taking action for fear of losing their jobs, or are put off by the daunting, stressful and time-consuming prospect of an employment tribunal – at present the only option open to workers denied their right to paid holiday.

Typical of the cases seen by Citizens Advice Bureaux is the following:

A 22-year-old woman living with her parents in Berkshire, who had been working as bar staff in a local pub for 18 months. During this time, she only ever had one week’s holiday – unpaid. The manager of the pub told her, without giving reasons, that she was not entitled to any paid holiday. She feared that if she brought an employment tribunal claim she would be dismissed, and, given the current economic climate, she was worried that she would then struggle to find a similar job.

Citizens Advice is calling on the Government to consolidate the existing enforcement bodies into one Fair Employment Agency to ensure vulnerable workers are able to enforce their basic workplace rights, including the statutory right to paid holiday. It says this could reduce the number of employment tribunal claims, create a level playing field for responsible employers, and help put an end to exploitation and abuse.

At present some key workplace rights, including the national minimum wage and limits on working hours, are policed by five separate enforcement bodies, and the Pay & Work Rights Helpline was set up in 2009 as a single telephone gateway to these.

The right to paid holiday is not directly covered by any of these bodies or the Helpline, yet CAB casework statistics suggest that denial of paid holiday affects many more workers than denial of each of the rights currently covered by enforcement bodies.

The charity’s report comes in response to a Government review of existing workplace rights compliance and enforcement arrangements. Citizens Advice welcomes this review and calls on the Government to build on the success of the Helpline by merging the enforcement bodies that lie behind it into a single Fair Employment Agency with additional powers to ensure that all workers get the paid holiday to which they are entitled.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“The vast majority of employers – large and small – try hard to meet their legal obligations to their workforce, and most go way beyond the minimum statutory requirements. Sadly, however, there are still far too many rogue employers and employment agencies prepared to flout the law and profit from exploitation.

“As a result, tens of thousands of the most vulnerable workers in the UK economy do not benefit fully from the legal framework of fairness in the workplace. They include many of the restaurant and bar staff, cleaners, shop workers, clerical staff, builders, decorators and care workers that the rest of us rely on.

“Left unchecked, the behaviour of such rogue employers creates injustice not only for the workers they exploit, but also for law-abiding employers who quite rightly want – and are entitled to expect – a level playing field on which to compete fairly, within the law.

“The current government review provides an ideal opportunity to build on progress in protecting vulnerable workers and to put a stop to abuse. A single Fair Employment Agency with powers to monitor compliance and enforce basic workplace rights - including the right to paid holiday - would simplify the enforcement framework, enhance the protection of vulnerable workers, create the level playing field sought by good employers, and provide better value for money for the taxpayer by being more efficient and reducing the number of employment tribunal claims.”



*Give us a break! The CAB service’s case for a Fair Employment Agency, is available at www.citizensadvice.org.uk/give_us_a_break

It represents Citizens Advice formal submission to the government’s review of existing workplace rights compliance and enforcement arrangements announced in December 2010 by Employment Relations Minister Edward Davey.

The report is endorsed by Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Fawcett Society, Gingerbread, Homeworkers Worldwide, the Law Centres Federation, Legal Action Group (LAG), Maternity Action, Oxfam, and Working Families

For more information on the Citizens Advice campaign for a Fair Employment Agency to enforce the right to paid holiday go to www.citizensadvice.org.uk/giveusabreak

Notes to editors:

  1. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, the Citizens Advice consumer service and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more see the Citizens Advice website.
  2. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality.
  3. To find your local bureau in England and Wales, visit citizensadvice.org.uk. You can also get advice online at adviceguide.org.uk
  4. You can get consumer advice from the Citizens Advice consumer service on 03454 04 05 06 or 03454 04 05 05 for Welsh language speakers
  5. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.3 million clients on 5.4 million problems from October 2013 to September 2014. For full 2013/2014  service statistics see our quarterly publication Advice trends
  6. Citizens Advice service staff are supported by more than 21,000 trained volunteers, working at over 3,000 service outlets across England and Wales.