Every year, the British government's Department of Business publishes a bizarre list of dates on which employers are advised to shut up shop and lock out their workers. These are what we call Public Holidays. It is not compulsory to close down on any of these days and, apparently, workers have no entitlement to demand the day off.
These arrangements are unfair, enormously costly and deny many workers the satisfaction of fixing their holiday times to suit their own needs.
The public sector is only too willing to shut up shop for public holidays. It doesn't much like being open anyway and, well, any excuse. Some public sector workers have a financial stake in the shut downs: refuse workers who can't work on the shut-down Monday can demand double or treble time to"catch up" the following Saturday. GP surgeries can close knowing that there is a lot of money to be made moonlighting for "Out of Hours" services: a recent investigation found that doctors are paid around £175 per hour for such work. That's a pretty good reason to shut your Surgery. When it comes to public sector scams, the UK is definitely up there with Greece.
So it is not the prospect of a day on the beach which lines up dustmen and doctors behind the present arrangements. This is fortunate: most of our public holiday dates are selected in anticipation that it will be cold or wet or both. Enter the phrase "Bank Holiday Washout" into Google and it returns a downpour of results.
The public sector shuts but much of the private sector stays open - retail and leisure - precisely in order to provide something to do for the lost souls who have been locked out.
The relationship is never reversed: there is never a day when Tesco is closed and the Town Hall open.Not one. It would be a nightmare! All those dreadful people who might try to access public services and all at once!
Of the actual days selected for public holidays only two hit dates when most workers would like a day off anyway: Christmas Day and New Year's Day. But few employers want to open on these days. First, they have read their Christmas Carol. Second, they don't want to pay staff to turn up with a hangover. In other words, an official public holiday is unnecessary to secure closures on these two popular dates. (That the official closures are designed by a public-sector Trades Union Committee is well demonstrated by the fact that when New Year's Day falls on a Sunday, Monday is a public holiday. This is not true in any other European country).
If it wasn't for public holidays, nothing would close on Good Friday or Easter Monday. Nor do any of the other dates have popular appeal, except perhaps August Bank Holiday - the annual opportunity to sit in traffic jams, have car accidents and - if you escape those - turn yourself into a sardine on Brighton beach.
Most genuinely popular celebrations proceed without benefit of Government endorsement. This is true of Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, Halloween, Bonfire Night and the Cup Final.
If Trafalgar Day or whatever isn't already a day of popular celebration, that isn't going to change because some Tory geek has a wheeze that it should become one. It would become just another public sector shut down. Period.
The fair and efficient way forward is to abolish ALL these advisory public holidays and return to workers the dignity of negotiating their holidays with their employers. That is the only way to respect people's family needs, cultural preferences and personal tastes.
Mervyn King, Governor of the Bank of England, has pointed out that the UK lost production in 2011 because of the Royal Wedding Day Orff and will lose it again for the Jubilee Days Orff.
The efficiency gains from abolishing public holidays would certainly justify adding a couple of days to every workers minimum holiday entitlement. Those who work five days a week should expect a minimum of thirty days holiday, which would provide a conventional week at Christmas, week at Easter and month in the summer. But some people don't want that and will keep the wheels of industry turning during those periods. Instead, they might take off thirty Fridays and enjoy thirty long weekends.