THE amount of paid leave that people in Ireland take varies greatly according to their occupation. If the average Irish industrial worker might have holiday-jealousy issues with the likes of a schoolteacher, it may be of some consolation to him that we Irish live in the most holiday-friendly zone in the world — Europe.
According to OECD statistics, the top 18 most generous nations in this regard include no fewer than 16 European states.
The Belgians enjoy 30 days of guaranteed paid holidays and the French shade them at 31, but it’s the Germans and Spanish who lead the field, with an annual minimum of 34 guaranteed paid days off. Here in Ireland, every citizen in full-time employment is entitled to a minimum of 20 days paid leave plus the additional nine days of public holidays.
By comparison, the Canadians seem miserly with their 19 days off and the Japanese even more stoic with just 10 guaranteed paid days of rest, but the USA stands out as the only country in the “developed” world without any statutory guarantee of a single paid day off. In practice, most American companies grant their employees an average of 21 days’ paid leave, but 23% of companies in the US don’t offer holidays.
Here in Ireland, Killaloe-based primary schoolteacher Fiona Fitzgerald is an example of someone at the longer end of the spectrum when it comes to holidays: “I would get about nine weeks in the summer… and up to 15 weeks overall in the year,” says Fiona, who says that holidays are “extremely important” to her in the work/life balance.
“Teaching can be very intense… I don’t think that people in other jobs quite appreciate that… and because you’re so tuned in while you’re there, you do need that time off to unwind, and I think that kids need it as well.”
It’s true that teaching has always been an all-consuming occupation from which, she says, one “rarely switches off” and that preparatory out-of-hours work is increasing, with the workload of paperwork and research during the summer months having increased “dramatically” in recent years, she says.
No matter which way you turn it, it is a long nine-week stretch in summer that many people in other professions might envy. Are there any disadvantages to such long holidays?
“I suppose that you can lose your enthusiasm for the job. I’m not saying that you do lose it, but maybe nine weeks in one block is too much.
“Equally, we’d often notice as teachers how much children will have forgotten when they come back in September. So maybe smaller blocks of holidays more often might be more beneficial.”
Are non-teacher friends jealous of her paid holidays?
“I wouldn’t say that they’re jealous. I would say that there’s possibly a lack of appreciation for the work that teachers do while they’re in the job, albeit with short hours. But it’s a different kind of work and I don’t think that some people appreciate the intensity of the work while they’re there.”
At the other end of the holiday spectrum, is shop owner Colin Wiseman. The self-employed father-of-three runs the landmark family hardware store, Wisemans in Durrus village, West Cork.
“In the last year, I was away for three or four weekends,” he estimates, speaking of the kind of holidays that many would not even consider to be holidays. “That was about it… One of them was a long weekend.
“I’d love to get away for a week but the kids are happy once they have time with us — that’s all they want.”
Colin and his wife live within a short walk of his work so even though the hours might be long and the holidays short, he hasn’t been missing out on the vital things in life.
“It’s just the kind of work I do… I’m not someone like a builder who can say ‘I’ll be back next week’. It’s a case of I have to be there for the customers, so I’m tied to it that way. But it would be very similar for a lot of self-employed people.”
Is the lack of holidays a cause for friction in the family?
“No, it’s not a cause for friction. It is hard that we can’t get away more but we have to make the most of what we have, and we do make the most of the time we have with the children when the shop is closed. We always do something on Sunday with the kids and when we get the occasional weekend away, we appreciate it all the more.”
It helps, too, that he’s admittedly the kind of person who doesn’t take long to switch off.
“When I’m away from the shop, I’m not thinking about the shop,” he laughs. “I forget about it and enjoy my time off!”