A bank holiday is a public holiday in the United Kingdom and also in the Republic of Ireland. There is no right to time off on these days, although the majority of the population not employed in essential services (e.g. utilities, fire, ambulance, police, health-care workers) receive them as holidays; those employed in essential services usually receive extra pay for working on these days. Bank holidays are so called because they are days upon which banks are shut and therefore (traditionally) no other businesses could operate. Legislation allows certain payments to be deferred to the next working day.
History of Bank Holidays
Prior to 1834, the Bank of England observed about thirty-three saints' days and religious festivals as holidays, but in 1834, this was reduced to just four: 1 May, 1 November, Good Friday, and Christmas Day.
In 1871, the first legislation relating to bank holidays was passed when Sir John Lubbock introduced the Bank Holidays Act 1871 which specified the days in the table set out below. Sir John was an enthusiastic supporter of cricket and was firmly of the belief that bank employees should have the opportunity to participate in and attend matches when they were scheduled. Included in the dates of bank holidays are therefore dates when cricket games were traditionally played between the villages in the region where Sir John was raised. Scotland was treated separately because of its separate traditions; for example, New Year is a more important holiday there.
The act does not specify Good Friday and Christmas Day as bank holidays in England, Wales and Ireland because they were already recognised there as common law holidays, and because of common observance, they became customary holidays since before records began.
In 1903, the Bank Holiday (Ireland) Act added 17 March, Saint Patrick's Day, as a bank holiday for Ireland only.
From 1965 the date of the August bank holiday was changed to the end of the month. Curiously, there were a few years (eg 1968) when this holiday fell in September, but this no longer occurs - presumably reflecting a change in the way of defining the relevant day. The Whitsun bank holiday was changed in 1971 and fixed as the last Monday in May.
Current Bank and Public Holidays
Exactly a century after the 1871 Act, the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971, which currently regulates bank holidays in the UK, was passed. The table below details the bank holidays specified in the 1971 Act; also listed are New Year's Day and May Day, introduced since 1971. These are deemed bank holidays by the legal device of a royal proclamation every year. In January 2007, the St Andrew's Day Bank Holiday (Scotland) Act 2007 was given royal assent, making 30 November (or the nearest Monday if a weekend) a bank holiday in Scotland.
Royal proclamation is also used to shift bank holidays that would otherwise fall on a weekend. In this way, public holidays are not 'lost' in years when they coincide with weekends. These deferred bank holiday days are termed a 'bank holiday in lieu' of the typical anniversary date. In the legislation they are known as 'substitute days'. The movement of the St Andrew's Day Scottish holiday to the nearest Monday when 30 November is a weekend day is statutory and does not require a proclamation.
A number of differences apply to Scotland rather than the rest of the UK. For example, Easter Monday is not a bank holiday. Also, although they share the same name, the Summer Bank Holiday falls on the first Monday of August in Scotland as opposed to the last elsewhere in the UK.
Bank holidays do not, however, assume the same importance in Scotland as they do elsewhere. Whereas they have effectively become public holidays elsewhere in the UK, in Scotland there remains a tradition of public holidays based on local tradition and determined by local authorities. In 1996, Scottish banks made the business decision to harmonise their own holidays with the rest of the UK, therefore bank holidays in Scotland are neither public holidays nor the days on which banks are closed.
Prospective New Bank Holidays
It has been noted that the number of holidays in the UK is relatively small compared to the number in many other European countries. However, direct comparison is inaccurate since the 'holiday in lieu' scheme of deferment does not apply in most European countries, where holidays that coincide with a weekend (29% of fixed-date holidays) are 'lost'. In fact, the average number of non-weekend holidays in such countries, is only marginally higher (and in some cases lower) than the UK.
There have been calls for an increase in the number of bank holidays. Among the most notably absent dates from the existing list are the feast days of patron saints; April 23 (St George's Day) in England and March 1 (St David's Day) in Wales are not currently recognised. March 17 (St Patrick's Day) is a public holiday in Northern Ireland and, from 2008, November 30 (St Andrew's Day) is a bank holiday in Scotland.
Given the relatively small number of existing holidays, the possibility has been seen for various commemorations to become bank holidays. Some of these suggestions are as follows:
Republic of Ireland
In the Republic of Ireland, the term "public holiday" is used officially, though "bank holiday" is used colloquially.
Good Friday is not a public holiday, though banks and public institutions are closed. The Summer Bank Holiday is also the first Monday in August rather than the last. A June Bank Holiday takes the place of the Spring Bank Holiday. Easter Monday and St Patrick's Day both qualify as National Days in the Republic.
Where public holidays fall at the weekend, an employee is entitled (at the employer's choice) to one of the following: a day off within a month, an additional day's paid annual leave or an additional day's pay. The employer can also choose one of these for regular public holidays, but this is rare. The public holiday does not, officially, move to the next weekday, but the usual practice is to take the day off on the next available weekday. A rarely-chosen alternative is to move to the previous or next church holiday.
The most recent public holiday to be added was Labour Day (often called May Day). This holiday is taken as the first Monday in May, and was introduced in 1994. Recently, senior politicians (including Ruairi Quinn TD) have been considering the addition of one or two extra public holidays to bring Ireland in line with the rest of Europe.
In the United States, banks are generally closed on all federal holidays, but the term bank holiday refers specifically to emergency bank closures mandated by executive order or act of Congress to remedy financial crises, for example the Emergency Banking Act of 1933.
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