UK Prime Minister David Cameron has angered unions by unveiling plans to scrap the May Day bank holiday – traditionally an international celebration of the labour movement – and replace it with a “UK Day” later in the year.
But Cameron says the move is driven by the practical consideration of spacing out public holidays – half of the eight fall in the spring – rather than patriotism.
The proposal will be put forward by tourism minister John Penrose in a tourism white paper.
Penrose says that an autumn bank holiday would help the UK’s travel industry while also giving the nation “a new focus for celebrating the best of what this country does”.
Brendan Barber, general secretary of the TUC, told the Financial Times: “A few Tory backwoodsmen have a bee in their bonnet about the May Day bank holiday because of its association with international labour day.”
“In fact, May Day is a traditional British celebration dating back to the fourth century. The government would do well to rise above this backbench grudge.”
Debates on scrapping the May Day bank holiday have bubbled up periodically since the holiday was introduced in 1978 by Michael Foot, Labour’s leftwing employment minister, in honour of organised labour and the right to strike.
The day remains a public holiday across much of Europe.
Britain enjoys less public holidays than its European neighbours, with European countries offering their workers an average of 10.8 days off a year, compared with the UK’s eight.
Catholic countries have many more due to saints, with Portugal and Spain enjoying up to 14 public holidays a year, against 12 for Italy and 11 for France.