The Trade Union Congress first began to campaign for a paid holiday for workers in 1911.
In 1936, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) adopted the Holidays with Pay Convention, which called for an annual holiday with pay of at least six working days after one year of continuous service. This was not ratified by the United Kingdom. European workers were typically granted an average of one to two weeks of paid vacation. Following a general strike, the French government signed the Matignon Accords in 1936, which mandated 12 days (2 weeks) of paid leave for workers each year.
In the UK, the Holidays with Pay Act was introduced in 1938 giving those workers whose minimum rates of wages were fixed by trade boards, the right to one weeks’ holiday per year.
The idea of paid leave and the importance of leisure was reiterated in 1948 by the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states
By the 1970s, there was growing international recognition of the need for a statutory paid annual leave. The ILO convention recommended a minimum of three weeks. Providing statutory rights to four weeks’ paid annual leave for workers was the subject of much debate in the European Union through the 1980s. The EU Working Time Directive stipulating four weeks’ annual leave was agreed on 23 November 1993, with the United Kingdom abstaining from the vote. The UK government did not implement a general statutory right to paid annual leave but continued to leave it to individual and collective bargaining in the workplace. On 1st October 1998, the Labour government in the UK implemented the EU Working Time Regulations granting workers 4 week’s annual leave.
Today the statutory minimum annual leave for full-time employees in the UK is 20 days and 8 national holidays (28 days in all). Self-employed workers are not entitled to annual paid leave. Workers who are in the armed forces, the police or the civil protection services don’t have the right to statutory holiday.