Not another one? It’s time for workers to rise up and call for bank holidays to be scrapped

Eamonn Butler
The Sun Shines For The Bank Holiday
Let us end this crazy collective dash to the seaside (Source: Getty)

You are joking. Not another one? I can’t stand this…. Yes, I’m feeling like Brenda from Bristol. Not about elections: about bank holidays.

We’ve just had Good Friday and Easter Monday – swiftly followed by the May Day Bank Holiday. And now it’s the Late May Bank Holiday. Jeremy Corbyn wants to add another four, including three more around the same time of the year: St David’s Day (March 1), St Patrick’s Day (March 17) and St George’s Day (April 23). We might as take springtime off entirely.

Since 1871, politicians have created bank holidays in a bread-and-circuses effort to make themselves popular. Today we have eight in England and Wales, nine in Scotland – which adds St Andrew’s Day – and with St Patrick’s Day and 12 July, Northern Ireland has 10.

An idea that belongs in the past

The original idea was to give some rest to factory, office and shop workers by closing the banks for a day. Businesses worked on cash, so when banks were shut you couldn’t operate, and your employees could have a day at home. Which they did, since there wasn’t much else to do in 1871.

Now, though, we have a vast leisure sector to entertain us. Come the bank holiday, we all drive off to the coast intending to leap into the sea like lemmings. It’s a crazy idea (even lemmings don’t actually do it), because we are then stuck in the same traffic jams as everyone else. By the time we do reach the sea we discover it’s far too cold at this time of year anyway. There is no point even taking the train, as it will be running a reduced service and you’ll be standing all the way.

Bank holidays are a barbarous relic and we should abolish them.

Read more: Bank Holiday traffic: Here's when there is likely to be the most travel disruption and how to avoid it

I’m not a Gradgrind. I don’t want to stop workers seeing daylight. I just think they should choose their own holidays, instead of politicians choosing for them. Today, all UK workers have a right to 28 days’ paid annual holiday. Nobody has an automatic right to paid leave on public holidays, but in many sectors, it is the norm.

Not so in pubs, hotels, retail and other sectors, where people have to work longer or harder to handle the extra demand that bank holidays bring. Many of the employees in those sectors (waiters, cleaners, shopworkers…) are of course among the lowest-paid in the country, so it is hard to see how overwhelming them with harassed customers every other springtime Monday constitutes an improvement in workers’ rights.

Though the cash registers might be ringing in the bars, restaurants and shops, those account for only one-seventh of the economy. Meanwhile, factories, offices and building sites are all closed. And that is one-half of the economy shut down.

Read more: Four extra bank holidays: Just how much would Labour's policy cost the economy?

A couple of years ago, the Centre for Economics and Business Research calculated that bank holidays cost the UK £2.5bn each, or around £19bn a year. How we are going to work off the national debt at this rate, I’ve no idea. If workers staggered their holidays according to their own wishes, a lot of UK industry could keep functioning.

Only in continental Europe do people work shorter hours than we do. Spain and Portugal have 14 public holidays, Italy has 16 – which may explain why they are economic basket cases.

Why can’t we choose our own holidays? Why can’t Jews or Muslims take their own holidays instead of Christian ones they don’t recognise? Why should we be funnelled into traffic jams and overcrowded airports? Why can’t we take holidays when the weather’s likely to be better, rather than when politicians dictate?

Workers of the world dis-unite! Denationalise our holidays!

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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