On Vacation

As the dog days of summer set in, the thoughts of many people living in the Northern hemisphere turn to taking a well-earned vacation. But wide disparities exist among wealthy countries when it comes to paid time off from work. We wonder: Which of these country’s workers get to take the most days off for vacation and holidays?

A. United States
B. Germany
C. Italy
D. United Kingdom

A. United States is not correct.

The United States is the only country among 21 rich-country members of the OECD where employers are not required to provide paid vacation time.

As a result, almost one in four Americans has no paid vacation or holidays (23%), according to an analysis by the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

The situation is even worse for lower-paid workers. For U.S. wage earners in the lowest 25%, only half receive any paid vacation — and those who did received just nine days in 2012.

By comparison, 90% of all higher-wage workers (those in the top quarter) received paid vacation — an average of 16 vacation days in 2012.

Part-time employees are also receive less paid time off. Only 35% of them receive any paid vacation days, compared to over 90% of full-time employees. That is against the law in nearly all other wealthy countries.

B. Germany is correct.

In Germany, workers have almost seven weeks of vacation and holiday time per year (24 vacation days, plus ten public holidays).

In contrast to the situation in the United States, the European Union’s Working Time Directive, passed in 1993, requires a base level of 20 vacation days for workers in all EU member countries.

Several European countries also require employers to provide workers with extra pay for their vacation period. In Austria, for example, workers receive a “13th month” salary for that purpose, under the assumption that many fixed costs — such as rent and utility payments — still have to be made while on vacation.

C. Italy is not correct.

Workers in Italy receive an average of just over six weeks of holidays and vacation each year (a total of 31 days). However, in Portugal and Spain, employees get even more time off — a total of 35 days in Portugal and 34 days in Spain. That puts these two countries at the highest level in Europe, along with top-ranked Austria and Germany.

The data for these three Southern European countries also point to the dangers of the so-called dual labor market. Under such a concept, regular full-time employees may receive a higher level of benefits than the nation’s economy can actually afford.

This is compensated for by creating another tier in the labor market, consisting of mostly young, part-time workers and people on short-duration contracts. These workers receive a much lower level of benefits.

D. United Kingdom is not correct.

In the United Kingdom, employees receive a total of 28 days of paid annual leave. This is also true for part-time workers.

While the UK and the United States often seem to pursue similar philosophies when it comes to regulating businesses and markets, U.S. workers receive far less vacation benefits than their British counterparts.

The same applies to Japan and Canada, countries that are generally much more similar to the United States in terms of overall worker benefits than to continental Europe.

Japan and Canada mandate ten days of paid vacation for all worker. In contrast, Australia and New Zealand — like the EU —mandate 20 days of paid vacation.

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