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BREXIT: How do UK workers’ annual leave entitlements compare across Europe?

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

M923 HR Services: UK vs Europe Employee Annual Leave Holidays

With the UK at the cusp of exiting the European union, it is uncertain what employment rights changes the UK will experience. In fact, as reported by the BBC, the UK Labour's shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, warned that after Brexit, the UK might choose to follow other "economic models" (than the EU's) and cited the example of the United States where holiday entitlement was 10 days a year and companies "had far more power than the workforce".

In the light of the above uncertainty let's review employee default holiday entitlements across the UK and EU prior to leaving the Union with the view of revisiting this topic some time after Brexit to see how the UK fares.

Context: UK - EU Employee Annual Leave:

The EU Working Time Directive, originally introduced in 1993, gives workers in the EU the right to “paid annual leave of at least four weeks”. This translates to a minimum of 20 paid days off in a year (The ‘year’ varies from organisation to organisation. However, it is typically defined within an organisation’s determined annual leave year). Five years after its introduction, in the year 1998, the UK put the Working Time Directive into Law as a late adopter.



The minimum annual leave entitlement in the UK has evolved since 1998. Since April 2009, the minimum annual statutory paid holiday entitlement for a full-time worker has rose to 5.6 weeks (28 days). This represents the current entitlements we have in the UK today. It is worthy to note that the 28 days includes the general 8 UK bank holidays. Holiday payment is generally at normal salary rate, particularly for full-time employees. For some employees with variable working hours, variable rate of pay is likely to apply.

In the drive to be perceived as the ‘Employer of choice’, UK organisations offer potential hires as well as existing employees between 20 – 30 days of annual leave, exclusive of UK bank holidays.

In summary, UK employees are legally entitled to a minimum of 28 days annual leave. However in practice, in addition to 8 UK national public holidays, UK employees generally tend to receive between 20 to 30 days annual leave (as contractually offered by employers while considering seniority, length of service and other parameters.)

We’ll now briefly detail what pertains in 5 European Union countries.


Employees are legally entitled to 13 paid public holidays and depending on an employee’s length of service, he/she may be entitled to 25 – 30 days of annual leave.


The minimum legal amount of holiday entitlement for full-time workers is 20 days. This excludes a 10-day paid annual public holiday period.


2.5 days per month of Annual leave entitlements is accrued for every full month worked. That is, for a full 12 months worked on a full-time basis, an employee can accrue a total of 30 paid days of holiday and this is exclusive of an annual total of around 11 days public holidays.


Employees are generally entitled to a minimum of 4 times (4X) their weekly working hours as annual holidays. e.g. A Full-time employee in the Netherlands is legally entitled to a minimum of 20 days of paid holiday days per annum. A part-time employee working e.g. 25-hour work week, will be entitled to 100 hours of annual paid holiday leave. This is exclusive of a total of 8 days annual public holidays.


In general terms, without special union terms or employment contracts, holiday entitlement is one month per year. This 30-day break also includes weekends. This is the number of holidays for a full-time worker which applies by default. Note however, that in certain careers e.g. in the academia, teachers by default have more than 30-days annual leave.


Note that in Germany, there is a distinction between a 'working' day and an 'office' day. Office days are Monday to Friday while working days extend beyond the five office days. In Germany, the default minimum annual holiday entitlement is 24 days however, when viewed from the ‘Office' day perspective, the annual entitlement becomes 20 days. Germany has about 10 public holidays each year and this is generally added to the 20 office days holiday entitlement.

Note that that this write-up aims to highlight the base-line or minimum annual leave employees are entitled to. However, most organisations, big and small, generally tend to be generous and contractually grant employees annual holidays beyond the minimum entitlement.

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