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Economy Minister Diane Dodds has proposed to amend legislation to allow workers in Northern Ireland unable to take holiday leave as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak to carry over their annual leave to the next two leave years.

The change to the Working Time Regulations (Northern Ireland) 2016 legislation would bring Northern Ireland in line with changes made in Great Britain last week.

The Minister said: “The current regulations in Northern Ireland provide almost all workers with an entitlement to 5.6 weeks or 28 days of holiday each year. This entitlement includes bank holidays and is worked out on a pro rata basis for part time workers. Most of this entitlement cannot be carried over between leave years.

“This means that if a worker does not take the holiday they lose it. The Regulations also require employers to facilitate their workers taking the holiday that they are entitled to in the leave year that it relates to – or risk a financial penalty.

“I recognise that these provisions will create additional challenges for businesses in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as they may be unable to allow their staff to take holiday when they need them to be at work. This may be because of increased demand, particularly for those employers providing essential services, or to maintain sufficient cover should other staff become ill or need to self-isolate.

“I am hugely grateful to all those who are working extremely hard providing essential services at this difficult time. As a result, I do not wish to see them suffer any detriment by losing their annual leave entitlement. That is why I propose to replicate the legislation made in Great Britain last week and allow those workers who are unable to take annual leave as result of the pandemic to carry over up to four weeks' annual leave into the next two leave years.

“I hope this measure will also assist employers maintain essential services throughout this public health emergency by temporarily easing annual leave regulations.

“It should be noted that any exemption will apply only to circumstances where workers are unable to take their leave as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak, and carry over of annual leave will be limited to the next two leave years. It is not intended to be a general relaxation of rules on holiday leave and entitlement.

“I hope to make the necessary legislation as soon as possible in order to assist the COVID-19 response. I have therefore instructed my officials to carry out informal consultation with core stakeholders, such as industry representatives and trade union bodies. I have, of course, written to the Chair of the Economy Committee and Ministerial colleagues.”