Bank holidays were first introduced by the Bank Holidays Act of 1871. There are currently six bank holidays in England and Wales plus two public holidays (Christmas Day and Good Friday), making a total of eight public holidays.
Workers in Scotland have the same public holidays as those in England and Wales, plus an additional day – St Andrew's Day – making a total of nine. Workers in Northern Ireland have the same bank and public holidays as in England and Wales, plus an additional two days – St Patrick's Day and Battle of the Boyne Day – making a total of ten.
Although bank holidays are widely observed by UK employers, they are not a statutory right. Your contract of employment will mention whether you have an entitlement to holiday on these days.
Some employers used to include bank holidays within the four week European minimum annual leave, rather than allowing them in addition to the four weeks. In October 2007, following union campaigning, eight days were added to a full-timer's leave entitlement, thereby ensuring that people get 5.6 weeks’ holiday. It is up to the employer whether to require you to take (or not to take) holiday on bank holidays. However, whatever the rules, they should be specified in your employment contract and/or the holiday procedure where you work.
If a union is recognised where you work, it is likely that enhanced pay rates or enhanced rights to time off in lieu have been negotiated for workers who have to work bank holidays.
Visit the GOV.UK website to see the full calendar of upcoming bank holidays.