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Thousands of workers denied time off for Royal Wedding, according to Citizens Advice

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 are being denied their legal right to take time off.

The report , Give us a break, based on evidence from Citizens Advice Bureaux (CAB) 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.

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."

The TUC has also called on employers to ensure workers do not lose out on the royal wedding bank holiday, and on the Government to change the law so everyone can enjoy the Queens diamond jubilee bank holiday next year.

The TUC is concerned a minority of employers are intending to treat the royal wedding holiday as just another working day.

The last Government helped workers who would not otherwise get any time off for bank holidays by increasing the national minimum statutory paid annual leave entitlement from 4 weeks to 5.6 weeks, and stipulating that the increased entitlement included bank holidays. But no provision was made to increase this entitlement in years when a special bank holiday is called, leaving workers to rely on their employers to choose to offer an extra day's leave or overtime for those that need to work.

There is still time for employers to do the right thing and give staff paid leave on 29 April, says the TUC.

But for those who are working on the royal wedding bank holiday, including retail and emergency services staff, the TUC believes that employers should offer an extra day's leave and their contracted overtime rate.

The TUC has written to Business Secretary Vince Cable calling on him to changing the law on special bank holidays by making a simple amendment to the working time regulations. While too late for the royal wedding bank holiday this year, this change will ensure that the same problem does not arise again for the bank holiday to mark the Queen's diamond jubilee on 5 June 2012.

TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said: "While most people are likely to get paid leave on 29 April as a result of their employer's goodwill, a significant minority of tight-fisted companies have decided to ignore the national mood and insist on keeping staff chained to their desks while everyone else is enjoying the bank holiday.

"Not offering paid leave or overtime will rebound on employers as they risk demoralising their workforce and damaging their reputation amongst their customers.

"We have today asked the government to raise the minimum standard for paid holidays to ensure workers are legally entitled to receive at least a day off in lieu if they are asked to work on the Queen's diamond jubilee holiday next year.

"This would be a popular measure that would help millions more people celebrate the Queen's jubilee."