Tens of thousands of employees are being denied their legal right to time off work and paid holidays, especially if they work in small, non-unionised companies, according to a report.

Citizens Advice (CAB) said its bureau across England and Wales dealt with a “widespread” number of cases where people were forced to work without a break or could only take unpaid leave.

Care home workers, hairdressers, bar staff, cleaners and shop employees were among the 87,000 cases reported to the CAB in the past three years.
Most of those involved were women, in part-time jobs, juggling home life with work.
Some of the problems stemmed from workers not knowing how much time off they were legally allowed to take, but the report also accused “rogue” employers of using excuses to avoid giving staff paid holidays.

One of the cases reported to the CAB was a 22-year-old bar worker from Berkshire who had one week’s holiday in 18 months – and that was unpaid.

Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “The vast majority of employers – large and small – try hard to meet their legal obligations to their workforce, and most go way beyond the minimum statutory requirements. Sadly, however, there are still far too many rogue employers and employment agencies prepared to flout the law and profit from exploitation.

“As a result, tens of thousands of the most vulnerable workers in the UK economy do not benefit fully from the legal framework of fairness in the workplace. They include many of the restaurant and bar staff, cleaners, shop workers, clerical staff, builders, decorators and care workers that the rest of us rely on.

“Left unchecked, the behaviour of such rogue employers creates injustice not only for the workers they exploit, but also for law-abiding employers who quite rightly want – and are entitled to expect – a level playing field on which to compete fairly, within the law.

“A single Fair Employment Agency with powers to monitor compliance and enforce basic workplace rights – including the right to paid holiday – would simplify the enforcement framework, enhance the protection of vulnerable workers, create the level playing field sought by good employers, and provide better value for money for the taxpayer by being more efficient and reducing the number of employment tribunal claims.”