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Explainer: What does Ireland's new public holiday actually mean for workers and employers?

For the vast bulk of workers within the State, a new public holiday will entitle them to an extra day’s paid leave.

Image: Shutterstock/Africa Studio

AT LONG LAST, the Government has unveiled its highly anticipated plans for a new national public holiday.

Starting this year, Irish workers will have an extra day’s paid leave, bringing to 10 the total number of bank holidays in the calendar year.

For this year only, it will fall on Friday, 18 March — the day after St Patrick’s Day, which is also a public holiday, effectively creating a once-off “a mini Easter break”, as Neil McDonnell, chief executive of small firms group ISME, put it recently.

This holiday is being designated “in recognition of the efforts of the general public, volunteers and all workers during the Covid-19 pandemic, and in remembrance of people who lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic”, the Government said in a statement yesterday.

From 2023 on, however, there will be a new annual public holiday at the start of February to mark St Brigid’s Day, also the traditional Gaelic festival of Imbolc/Imbolg. 

This will fall on the first Monday of every February from 2023 on, except where St Brigid’s day happens to fall on a Friday. In that case, the holiday will fall on a Friday.

Those are the details but does an extra bank holiday actually mean for workers and employers? Who’s entitled to what and how prepared are employers for the changes? Let’s take a look.

Hang on, first of all, what’s the difference between a bank and a public holiday?

For the purposes of what we’re talking about, nothing, really.

They’re effectively the same thing.

Technically, bank holidays are days on which banks are closed that are not necessarily nationally observed holidays — like Good Friday, for example. But let’s keep it simple.

Right. So what am I actually entitled to?

It all depends. 

But for the vast bulk of workers within the State, a new public holiday will entitle them to an additional day’s paid leave.

That applies to both public and private sector employees.

For part-time workers, it’s a little different. They’re only entitled to the full day’s paid leave if they have worked for their employer for 40 hours in the five weeks before the public holiday and if the holiday falls on a day they would normally work.

If it does not fall on a day they wouldn’t normally work — in other words, if they were off work that day regardless — they’re still entitled to benefit from the holiday to the tune of one-fifth of their weekly pay.

Does it mean that all businesses have to close?

No, there is no requirement for businesses to shut up shop on a bank holiday.

That means that many workers do have to work on the day question.

What if I have to work the bank holiday?

Well, if your employer cannot facilitate a paid day off on the actual date of the public holiday, for whatever reason, full-time workers are entitled to one of the following:

  • a paid day off within a month of that day, or
  • an additional day of annual leave, or
  • an additional day’s pay.

This applies regardless of the amount of time you work on a bank holiday — even if you’re generously compensated for that time.

So, for example, even if your employer pays you time-and-a-half or double pay for a half day’s work on a bank holiday, you’re still entitled to the above, according to the Organisation of Working Time Act 1997.

The Act also states that you can ask your employer which one of the above options will apply at least 21 days before the holiday itself. If they don’t reply for some reason, you’re entitled to take the day itself off and receive a full day’s pay as normal.

What if my employer refuses?

The answer to this is fairly cut and dry, employment law solicitor Richard Grogan told The Journal.

If your employer refuses to give you a day off in lieu of the bank holiday or an additional day’s leave, “In those circumstances, it’s a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) under the Organisation of Working Time Act,” he said.

If your employer refuses the pay you’re entitled to, you could bring a claim to the WRC under the Payment of Wages Act 1991.

He explained, “But if you do bring a claim under the Act, it would simply be for that day’s pay.

“But if you bring it Under the Organization of Working Time Act, then the WRC can award compensation of up to two years’ salary.”

What if a bank holiday falls on a weekend?

Again, you’re still entitled to the above — although, obviously, this is only an issue with certain bank holidays: Christmas, Stephen’s Day, New Year’s Day and Paddy’s Day. 

But if, for example, Christmas Day falls on a Saturday and you’re scheduled to be in work the following Monday, you’re not automatically entitled to have that day off. 

You are, however, entitled to a paid day off within a month of that day, an additional day of annual leave or an additional day’s pay.

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Who’s in favour of having a new bank holiday and why?

Who isn’t, is probably an easier question to answer.

Tourism and hospitality are delighted with it, for example.

Naturally, trade unions are also very happy. They have long argued that Irish workers enjoy fewer bank holidays than many of our European neighbours.

Speaking to The Journal today, Dr Laura Bambrick, Head of Social Policy at the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, said, “The EU27 average is 12 days. After yesterday announcement, workers in Ireland will have 10 public holidays.

“The holiday gap is even wider when regional and municipal days are included. Many European countries have days off for a saint associated with a region.”

She added, “Unionised workers in the EU get public holidays that fall on a weekend back as part of their employment terms and conditions. Irish bosses aren’t obliged to negotiate with unions, so workers need their public day entitlement protected in law.”

Public sector trade union Fórsa welcomed the Government’s decision yesterday, saying it was positive that the additional public holiday was not a one-off gesture.

Is anyone against the new public holiday?

Well not against it, per se — but there are one or two question marks hanging over it, as Richard Grogan explained.

“No one has asked how SMEs are going to pay for it this year,” he said.

“I’m not trying to be critical of the extra day. It’s a very good idea. But it makes no difference to the civil service or the Government — they’re going to get paid automatically.

“But an awful lot of businesses at the present time have limited resources.”

Speaking on RTÉ Radio 1′s Today programme with Claire Byrne last week, Neil McDonnell, chief executive of small firms group ISME, broadly welcomed the additional bank holiday and said it makes sense, given Ireland is so far below the European average for public holidays.

However, he said the 18 March holiday this year will pose problems for many businesses.

“It will present staffing, cost and other difficulties for a lot of small businesses around the place now because we’re only seven or eight weeks out for it now.”

So give me the full list of bank holidays.

  • New Year’s Day (1st January)
  • From 2023, St Brigid’s Day (the first Monday of every February except when Brigid’s Day falls on a Friday)
  • St. Patrick’s Day (17th March)
  • Friday, 18 March (2022 only)
  • Easter Monday (date changes year to year)
  • May Bank Holiday (the first Monday in May)
  • June Bank Holiday (the first Monday in June)
  • August Bank Holiday (the first Monday in August )
  • October Bank Holiday (the last Monday in October)
  • Christmas Day (25th December)
  • St Stephen’s Day (26th December).

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