From the TUC

Leap year – time for a working time resolution

29 Feb 2012, by in Working Life

Today is 29 February – which of course only usually comes around every 4 years. If you have  a 40-year career then you are likely to work on 29 February 7 times in all (the other 3 will fall at weekends).

In many ways this is a year of contrasts and changes  when it comes to working time with, for example, the extra day of the leap year is matched by the extra bank holiday for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. This rare day it would be a good time for the more careless employers to resolve to clean up their act when it comes to working time.

Does anybody lose out because its a  leap-year? Not as far as I can see. Those who are paid by the hour will simply be paid for working today. Those who are paid by salary will not get paid any more for working today, but leap years have always implicit in all our working patterns.

They have certainly been around for a long time. Indeed they were also a feature of the Julian calender, which preceded our current Gregorian calendar. In fact, it appears that leap years came to the UK shortly after the Roman  occupation, as Julius Caesar adopted this form of calendar in 45 BC.

Our currnet Gregorian calendar was designed to keep the vernal equinox in the same relationship with the date of Easter. Other calendars all have similar arrangements, otherwise over a long time key festivals would gradually slide into a different season.

The vernal equinox year is therefore the key measurement and this is about 365.242374 days long – (so  every 400th year is not a leap year – but we actually won’t have to worry about that again until the year 2,400!

In case you were wondering, the vernal equinox is the point in the spring when the tilt of the Earth’s axis is inclined neither away from nor towards the sun, the center of the Sun being in the same plane as the Earth’s equator (I had to use a tennis ball, a grapefruit and a marker pen in order to visualise this).

All in all, from the point of view of working life, leap years are relatively trivial things. However, while we are thinking about working time i would like  to ask employers to think about three other things during the coming year and to make a leap year’s resolution to address them. Good employers already know the value of managing working time properly but our task must be to get more to follow best practice. My three wishes are:

  • to end excessive working time. 3.0 million UK employers regularly work more than 48 hours per week and 1.8 million of them say that they want a shorter working week (Source: Labour Force Survey). Long hours are closely associated with an increased risk of contracting heart disease, stress, depression and diabetes.
  • to enforce the law on annual leave. Far to many employees are not still not getting 5.6 weeks annual leave. In some cases contracts have simply not been updated, in other cases, employees are simply never given time to take all their leave.  According to ONS, 3.8 million full-time employees currently report that they have less than 20 days paid annual leave (the law provides for 28 days, but this may include public holidays, so 20 days is the minimum possible entitlement). Enforcement is only possible by taking an Employment Tribunal case.
  • and, quite urgently, to ensure that all employees benefit from the Diamond Jubilee bank holiday. Some employers did themselves no favours at all by ignoring the Royal Wedding Bank Holiday last year. They should note that it is still possible to be labelled “Scrooge” in June.  The Government could easily ensure that every employee benefits by making a simple amendment to the Working Time Regulations.