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With May being very much the month of the bank holiday, you may be wondering all about the origins of bank holidays – why we have them, who else has them and what the future holds for the nation’s favourite days off.


Where Did Bank Holidays Come From?


The UK’s current set of bank holidays are a result of several law changes that have come around since the very first act that formalised bank holidays in 1871. This legislation, introduced by Liberal politician Sir John Lubbock (who conveniently was a banker), specified four days (Easter Monday, Whit Monday, first Monday in August and Boxing Day) that workers would not be compelled to work. The move was so popular that some people called the first bank holidays St Lubbock’s Days.


Of course while there were originally four bank holidays, these were added to in 1971 when a further act (the Banking and Financial Dealings Act) added the current August bank holiday. These days have been chopped and changed by laws over the years to give us our current set of bank holidays in the UK.

Do Any Other Countries Have Bank Holidays?


Many other countries have public holidays of their own such as religious festivals, but holidays specified as bank holidays are solely the domain of the UK, Hong Kong, the Republic of Ireland and several Commonwealth countries.


The prevalence of bank holidays in Commonwealth countries is largely down to these countries taking something of a lead from the UK due to sharing a monarch and the historical significance of the British Empire.


Are Bank Holidays Under Threat?


Far from being under threat, there are significant campaigns to try and get more bank holidays in the UK. One of the biggest campaigns is by the Labour Party. Currently in opposition, Labour are promising to add four new bank holidays. The days are:


  • St David’s Day – 1st March
  • St Patrick’s Day – 17th March
  • St George’s Day – 23rd April
  • St Andrew’s Day – 30th November


These days are, of course, dedicated to the patron saints of the UK’s four constituent parts. Labour has often been criticised for being anti-nationalistic, but they are hoping to change this perception with the introduction of the new bank holidays.


But it isn’t all good news for workers, the end of Britain’s membership of the European Union could spell the end of certain bank holidays. Currently the European Court of Justice can overrule courts in member states that try to reduce workers rights and conditions. If the UK leaves the union and chooses to no longer respect the rule of the ECJ, there is the potential for the removal of some of these holidays.


Enjoy Your Bank Holiday!


While there is a possibility of either of the outcomes above, it is more than likely that the current days that we have as bank holidays will remain as they are. Taking people’s rights away is politically suicidal, and if there is one thing that we know about politicians, it is unlikely that they will introduce something so unpopular. So, at least for now, enjoy your bank holiday. And if you get a moment, raise a glass to Sir John Lubbock, the grandfather of bank holidays.

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