Belfast Telegraph

Poll: Should the New Year's Day bank holiday be scrapped?

Northern Ireland's 10 days off for Christmas 'costs businesses £100m'

By Margaret Canning and Brett Campbell

Northern Ireland's Christmas shutdown costs the local economy around £100m in lost productivity, an expert has claimed.

Most employers here close between Christmas and New Year, with staff enjoying an extended break of around 10 days, including two weekends.

This year, many employees will have downed tools on Friday, December 22 and won't return until next Tuesday, January 2.

That means they will have a total of six working days off, including bank holidays on Christmas Day and on New Year's Day.

Economist John Simpson said the cost to the economy could be around £100m, based on annual output figures, and that one solution could be to abolish the public holiday of New Year's Day.

He said most organisations opt not to have their workforce come back into work between Christmas Day and the new year as they are eligible for another day off on January 1.

Mr Simpson said: "One answer is to ask ourselves - do we need the second bank holiday over Christmas? You could argue that the second bank holiday could be better enjoyed when the weather is warmer."

He estimated that around a quarter of the economy - mainly covering health service workers - remains active over Christmas.

Belfast Telegraph restaurant critic Joris Minne said long breaks were a challenge in Northern Ireland, as many stopped over the Twelfth Week and at Easter, as well as for Christmas. Many restaurants also closed over the break.

"That's a business choice and usually one exercised by very successful operations who can afford to do so," said Mr Minne.

"It always seems to me odd, however, that anyone operating a business in the hospitality sector would close during a holiday when more people are more likely to be in search of restaurants."

However, Co Down businesswoman Allison Abernethy - who runs Abernethy Butter with her husband Will - said Christmas week represented her only opportunity for a break.

She said the business, which is based in Dromara, had its busiest period in December.

It makes rolls of gourmet butter by hand, and supplies top retailers and restaurants.

"We stop over Christmas and until January 2 simply because we need the break," she said.

"Really, from the last week of November, we go into super-production mode - and in the week before Christmas, we really are in extra-super production mode.

"We produce thousands of rolls of butter every day.

"Christmas week is the only week in the year when we close the doors."

But Barbara Hughes (41), who co-founded Hughes Craft Distillery with her husband Stuart in 2010, said she only pulled the shutters down for Christmas Day.

The couple, who have 26 employees, recently acquired the Four Trees pub in Moira which will soon be refurbished in order to accommodate their distillery.

She said: "In previous years we would have closed for three or four days over Christmas, but this year we have the pub so we just closed both sites for one day.

"We actually had people wanting to book tables for Christmas Day, so we could have stayed open.

"Being new to the pub industry I thought Christmas would be a quiet time but not at all, it's been bonkers.

"Boxing Day in particular is a huge day for sport and I think people just get fed up eating turkey and want to get out of the house."

Larger businesses in Northern Ireland are also working to stay open over Christmas.

For example, global pharmaceutical firm Almac closes on Christmas Day but has a small number of staff return on December 26, while most are back in work on December 27.

What do you think?


Belfast Telegraph

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