Do we get Bank Holidays right?


As the UK slides unto another long weekend of days off in the rain and traffic jams headed for the coasts, attention turns once again to the question of whether we do this right. 

The aim was laudable enough.  When John Lubbock, himself a banker, introduced the Bank Holiday Bill in 1871, the aim was to add statutory holidays.  If banks were closed and no financial transactions could take place, other workers would also gain a day off.  On the whole, Lubbock did better at introducing holidays than he did in teaching his poodle to read.  But the problem is that they come thick and fast in the first half of the year, but are widely spaced thereafter.

By the time we add Good Friday and Easter Monday (technically public holidays rather than bank holidays) to the early and late May holidays, business is regularly disrupted to little good effect.  After the August holiday, there is a desert until Boxing Day on December 26th.  There is a case for moving the workers’ Mayday holiday to October 26th, Trafalgar Day.  Socialist countries celebrate Spring with its planting and its promise; more cautious capitalist ones have their Labour Day in Autumn, when the harvest is in.

Some say there should be no statutory holidays at all, and that workers and employers should fix these between them.  Some look enviously at the EU average of 10.8 days off compared with the UK’s measly 8 days, and suggest adding an extra one.  The day when the UK voted to take back control, June 23rd, suggests itself as a national Independence Day.  Certainly, something should be done to sort out the mess.,

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  1. ‘By the time we add Good Friday and Easter Monday (technically public holidays rather than bank holidays)’

    In the U.S., banks cannot be closed for more than 3 days in a row. British banks close for 4 days at Easter?

  2. That nice man Jeremy Corbyn thinks we should have 4 more bank holidays. I notice research from Von Essen has found that “Developed economies have an average of 12 national public holidays compared to emerging markets had an average of 14.”
    Correlation isn’t causation of course, but if we take the Corbyn route we are more likely to become an emerging economy, so I’d prefer us to drop a couple now just in case.
    The Von Essen analysis also found that total holidays for UK workers were about the same as for workers in countries with more public holiday dates in the calendar, so workers here have a little more choice overall.

  3. They were created when we still had a highly structured society based around large enterprises of factories and agriculture. And in that setting, they make sense. They work. Why do factories have tea breaks? Because you can’t have a bloke who fixes the axles going off for a piss, leaving the wheel man waiting. It makes sense to stop the line and have everyone going off for a piss together.

    The only ones I’d consider keeping are Xmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day just because they’re highly observed traditions that almost everyone wants (even non-Christians) and they’re social, meaning co-ordination. And I’m open to argument on those. The rest are just the state interfering, getting people to take days off when they might prefer another day and screwing with the roads.

  4. We in the US don’t do federal holidays right either. We went from marking the actual birthdays of two key presidents, to marking the nearest Monday for the sole sale of creating long weekends, to a vague “Presidents Day” (all hail Wilson and Carter!) and a matching Martin Luther King Day, because y’see the blacks can’t share our heritage because it is white.

    We don’t need to decide as-a-nation which days everyone knocks off from work, nor even whom we esteem, whom in any case no one studies on their Day. I’d keep Independence Day, and ditch the parades and fireworks for public readings of the document – Holding no grudges against King George, we ought to remind ourselves of how the US came to be and what we were told it was about.

    • It might coincide with half term, but the weather is often rainy and cold. Not much use having a day off past the end of September IMO. And while we are at it, can we stay on BST all the year round?

  5. We now have family day, but it’s in February, evens the days out,but not exactly a great time. I’ve seen the suggestion that the ski resorts campaigned for it.
    There is calls Aboriginal/First Nations day to be a recognised holiday, that’s held on the solstice so that would be a good one to add, though as I get the day off already I do like it’s a good day to go and hike and have a quieter day

  6. Battle Of Britain Day (15 September) is imho preferable to Trafalgar Day (21 October) – more chance of better warmer weather.

    Agree with dropping most and adding to work holiday quota, although my keep preference is Christmas, Boxing & New Year Day plus Easter Monday.

  7. @TN
    Fucking Ascension Day? Stuck in a small town in SW France with one gas station, unattended. Wouldn’t accept any plastic offered. And the nearest for-sure fuel a 30km drive to & 25km up the peage. And about a pint in the tank. Fucking Ascension Day.

  8. Victoria, Aust is reaching the point of insanity

    13 public holidays all up. Two of those are the amusingly named “Day following Good Friday” and Easter Sunday. These have nothing to do with a day off, they were simply gazetted as public holidays so that weekend workers got their penalty rates too. Two more are for sporting events, the latest being the ridiculous “AFL Grand Final Friday”, ostensibly introduced a few years ago to allow people to take the kiddies to the Grand Final parade held the day before the game. In reality it’s mostly there to fill the late year drought I suspect.

  9. compared with the UK’s measly 8 days
    Northern Ireland gets St. Patrick’s day (Bank Holiday), and 12th July (Public Holiday).
    If you think Trafalgar day would be a nice wind-up, think of the excitement we have on the 12th July.