Don't bank on it!

Britain will grind to a halt on 29 April as we all ‘celebrate’ Kate and William’s wedding. But the extra bank holiday has caused angst and argument at work places around the country.

So, after a brief discussion at the last co-op meeting, New Internationalist staff have agreed to ‘take the King’s shilling’ and accept the day off for the Royal Wedding. There was a suggestion that we work on 29 April but then close the office on a different date, agreed by us all, as a small protest against the passive national acceptance of the ridiculous cost of a Royal Wedding at a time when people are losing their jobs and homes due to this government’s cut-backs. But that would cause some difficulty for people with children who wouldn’t have a carer available on 29 April and who would then have a day off when partners would be at work. Our contracts state that we are entitled to eight days’ statutory holidays so we had to agree that the extra Bank Holiday would be recognized and paid for. While I won’t be watching the spectacle, discussing the dress or buying any thimbles or tankards – there is no way I am going to turn down a day off with my family – with the telly switched firmly off!

Kate and William announce their engagement

Photo by UK_repsome under a CC Licence

The day off has caused difficulties in other much bigger organizations. Over 100 NHS trusts are refusing to pay enhanced rates to those working on the big day, despite the huge pressure and dedication of staff. The trust’s lawyers say that as contracts specify eight statutory bank holidays per year and this one is extra, they will not pay the holiday rate. This is just mean-spirited – if the government has decreed the date to be a Bank Holiday then surely people who have to work it should get the same rate as any other Bank Holiday? It could be argued that as we’ve all paid for the wedding in some way already, to expect some of the lowest-paid workers to work for a flat rate on a public holiday is just unfair. Oddly enough, the officers providing security for the wedding will be paid double for working on a Bank Holiday, and this higher rate is contributing to a security bill that some set at £20 million.

Kate and William commemorative mug

Photo by poppet with a camera under a CC Licence

Not surprisingly, some private firms have taken advantage of the lack of clarity around entitlement and have already stated that as the additional festival is not a statutory bank holiday, they will pay normal rates for staff working on 29 April, and will make them take a day’s annual leave if they wish to have the day off. How can we all share in William and Kate’s joy if some of us are having to carry on as usual and for no extra payment to cushion the disappointment?  

If the government is serious about wanting us all to celebrate the continuance of a dysfunctional family that costs the British taxpayers £36.7 million per year, then it should make damn sure that we are all there to do it together and make it clear to all employers that 29April is a Bank Holiday like any other and should be treated as such.

Anna Weston is the office manager at New Internationalist's Oxford office.

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