Thousands of workers are being deprived of their full holiday entitlement because employers are ignoring a law that gives employees four weeks' paid holiday a year.

Thousands of workers are being deprived of their full holiday entitlement because employers are ignoring a law that gives employees four weeks' paid holiday a year.

Companies are using a wide variety of ploys and "excuses" to evade legislation that came into force nearly two years ago, a survey of Citizens Advice Bureaux has found.

Some organisations simply refuse to grant their workers any paid time off; tell them incorrectly that they do not qualify; or claim they cannot afford it. Other workers are threatened with dismissal for trying to claim their rights and some have their wages cut so that employers can finance the time off, according to a report by the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (Nacab).

One woman in the Midlands worked at a hairdresser for five years earning just £75 a week and never received any paid holiday. A care worker who had worked 18 months in a nursing home was told she was no longer needed when she asked about paid holidays.

Some companies have exploited the new legislation to cut more generous holiday provision, others have erroneously told their part-time workers that they do not qualify. Thousands of employees, especially those who work for small firms in residential care homes, hotels, catering and cleaning, are being denied their rights. Most of them are women and members of ethnic minorities. Some of those affected are employed by professional firms, local authorities and large private sector organisations, the study found.

The national association, which has helped many workers to secure their rights through employment tribunals, called for tougher enforcement measures. David Harker, chief executive of Nacab, said financial incentives and other help should be provided for employers, particularly small firms which may face difficulties meeting their obligations.

He called for an employment rights enforcement body to be created, with powers to investigate, carry out spot checks and impose stiff penalties on employers breaking the law. The association believes that the refusal to grant paid holiday often goes hand in hand with a failure to meet other statutory employment duties such as paying the minimum wage and providing a written contract and itemised pay slips.

Mr Harker said: "Giving people the right to paid holiday was a significant advance. But our evidence shows the benefits have yet to be felt by some of the most vulnerable workers in the UK and the Government could do much more to ensure compliance."

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