Three weeks holidays for all

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The Independent Online
Working people are to get three weeks' paid holiday - rising to four weeks in 1999 - under the European Union's Working Time Directive.

This unprecedented bonus for employees is an integral part of the EU package of measures which John Major is bitterly contesting in the European Court of Justice. Labour leaders are confident that the court will find against Britain on Tuesday, forcing the government to implement the directive.

The package will introduce:

A ceiling of 48 hours on the average working week

Three weeks' paid holiday

One day's rest every week

Rest breaks if the working day is longer than six hours

Eleven consecutive hours' rest in each 24-hour period.

Night workers should not work more than eight-hour shifts, and should have free health assessments.

"The Tories are deliberately lying about the directive," said a Labour spokesman. "They are deliberately misleading industry and the voters. This is just another example of talking tough but not acting tough."

Mr Major's hopes of getting the issue of the working time directive overturned in the forthcoming inter-governmental conference, suffered a setback when the Irish Foreign Minister, Dick Spring, said last week that, if Mr Major raised the issue, it "would be a problem and a very great difficulty".

The EU plan is due to come into operation on 23 November, and will involve major changes in employment. At present only agricultural workers have a legal right to paid holiday.

Britain is the only country in the world where employees have no legal right to paid holiday and Opposition estimates put the number of Britons who get no paid leave at 2.5 million - one in eight of the labour force.

The government has focussed most attention on the limitation on working hours, but Shadow Education and Employment Secretary David Blunkett pointed out yesterday that there will be widespread exemptions, and workers will be free to work more than 48 hours if they wish.