Labour day celebrates workers' rights – know yours

Ignore the morris dancing, 1 May is a celebration of international workers' rights

Nicole Chang
Friday 01 May 2015 09:50
Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC)
Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the British Trades Union Congress (TUC)

Most British employees know their basic rights, like entitlement to holiday leave and the right not to be discriminated against.

But did you know that if you are an employee you have the right to take time off for trade union activities, or the right to request time off for training?

In honour of Labour Day on 1 May (also known as May Day and International Workers' Day), here are a few more rights that employees* in the United Kingdom are entitled to.

Trade unions

All employees have the right to join a trade union - but, they also have a right not to join a trade union either.

What this means is that joining a trade union is a personal choice. You cannot be dismissed or refused a job solely because of your wish to/not to be part of one.

You also have the right to take time off work to participate in trade union activities, however an employer does not necessarily have to grant you paid leave for this.

Striking workers protest government spending cuts, July 2014

Time off

Aside from the 28 days of paid holiday leave that all full-time employees are entitled to every year, most employees also have the right to take time off work for a number of other reasons.

You can take (unpaid) time off to look after dependants in an emergency - if you child suddenly falls ill for example, or if childminding arrangements fall through.

If you are aged between 16-17, you also have the right to take paid time off work to study or train.

Adult employees have the right to ask for time off to do training (if your organisation has over 250 employees, and you have been working there for at least 26 weeks) - but employers aren’t legally obliged to pay you.

All employees also have the right not just to paid maternity/paternity leave, but also to paid adoption leave.


Your employer is allowed to write a bad reference if justified; they have a duty to provide an accurate reference. However, you have the right not have information such as medical records and spent criminal convictions included in any employer reference.

Flexible working

If you have been working at an organisation for more than 26 weeks, you have the right to ask for flexible working.

This can range to include switching to part-time work, working from home, or staggering hours.

Your employer is required to give serious consideration to your request, but they do not have to agree to it - though they must give a good business reason if so.

Zero hours contracts

'Zero hours' contracts aren't technically legally defined, but they are generally understood to mean that employers are under no obligation to offer work, and workers similarly do not have to accept work offered.

Zero hours workers have the right to annual leave (28 days a year) and to be paid the national minimum wage, alongside other statutory rights.

* For the purposes of this article, this only applies to employees and not to freelance or agency workers. However ,all workers are still entitled to certain rights like a minimum wage and the right not to be discriminated against.

For more information on employment rights, the Citizens Advice Bureau has a comprehensive list of basic rights at work.

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