The matter was referred to the Backbench Business Committee who are required to schedule a debate on e-petitions with more than 100,000 signatures. However the Government has rejected the e-petitioners request on the basis that the existing public holidays have a significant cost to the economy and that the Government does not believe that there should be public holidays to mark these days.
Although the debate has been framed in the context of the cost of public holidays, in employment law terms the recognition of additional public holidays would not necessarily give employees the right to additional days of leave. There is no requirement on employers to recognise public holidays and it is entirely possible to require employees to work on public holidays, provided that they are, in total, allowed a minimum of 28 days of leave per year (for a full time employee).
Having said that some employers frame their annual leave provisions in such a way that staff are entitled to "all recognised public holidays" from year to year. In some cases, depending on the precise drafting, this could result in employees having a contractual right to additional days of leave if new public holidays were introduced. In other cases it may not result in additional days leave being granted, but it may reduce the number of days that the employee is entitled to take at a time of their choosing where the contract requires the employee to "save" days from their annual entitlement to public holidays. If the new public holidays were introduced then it would potentially be religious discrimination for an employer to recognise some but not other public holidays.
A fairer approach to public holidays, particularly if further consideration is given to the recognition of additional religious holidays as public holidays, would be to allow employees a certain number of floating days which they can use on whichever public holidays they choose.
Even if no further consideration is given to allowing for additional public holidays, it is important that employers give careful consideration to requests for annual leave where the request is made for observance of a religious belief or celebration of a religious festival given that, in certain circumstances, refusal of such a request could amount to religious discrimination.