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Working time rights

These cover rest breaks, holidays and holiday pay, night work and how many hours you can work each week. They apply to all workers including employment agency, casual and part-time workers as well as employees.


From the first day that you start work, you start to accumulate holidays.  You are, prior to October 2007, entitled to a minimum of 4 weeks paid holiday in a year.

From October 2007, however, you will be entitled to 4.8 weeks paid holidays rising to 5.6 weeks from April 2009. Employers are being encouraged to give you the full entitlement of 5.6 weeks paid holiday from October 2007 but are not legally obliged to do so. However, if they do not give you the full entitlement, they will have to pay you an additional 0.8 weeks, the difference between 5.6 weeks and 4.8 weeks to compensate for not giving you your full entitlement.

If you have a contract for a year’s work and you work 5 days a week you are entitled to a minimum of 20 days paid holiday.  If your contract is for 6 months then you are entitled to a minimum of 10 days paid holidays.

If you leave part way through your holiday year your holiday entitlement will be calculated on a proportionate basis minus any holidays that you have taken.


If your holiday year runs from January to December and you leave after April, that is 3 months into your holiday year, and you have taken 3 days holiday then you will be entitled to
 20/4 days = 5 – 3 = 2 days paid holiday due.

If you have taken more than your holiday entitlement due when you leave your employer can subtract the amount of extra holidays taken from your wages. For instance, in the above example if you had taken 7 days holiday rather than 3 you would have taken an additional 2 days holiday than you were actually entitled to. Your employer can, therefore, deduct two days from your final wages. 

Your hours and pay may vary over time.  If this is the case your earnings over the most recent 12 week period are divided by the hours that you have worked over the same 12 week period to give you an average hourly rate and this is used to determine your holiday pay. 

Rest Breaks

If your working day is longer than 6 hours then you are entitled to a 20 minute break.  If you are under the age of 18 then you are entitled to a 30 minute break for every 4 ½ hours that you work.

Working Week limit

You have the right not to work more than an average of 48 hours a week. This limit is averaged over a 17 week period.  You can choose to work more than this, and if you do choose to then your employer should ask you to sign a document.  This is classed as opting out of the working time agreement. However, it should be your free choice – your employer should not put pressure on you to opt-out.

You should be wary of the employer presenting you with a document or contract that says that you are willing to work more than 48 hours a week or opt-out. You should remember that it is your choice whether you work longer hours – the employer cannot order you.

You can choose to opt back into having this rights, however you may have to wait some time to gain protection.

Night Work

If you regularly work during the night, then you should not work more than 8 hours in each 24 hour period.  The Working Time Regulations allow for night work to be averaged over 17 weeks in the same way as weekly hours of work.  If you do work during the night, your employers should provide you with free health assessments.


Your right to paid holidays is enforced through employment tribunals. Your right to rest breaks is enforced by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

If you have any problems with your working time rights you should contact your trade union or an advice agency.

You can contact the Vulnerable Workers project and we can put you in touch with the relevant trade union or advice agency.

© Trades Union Congress 2007