August 24, 2005

U.S. workers still lag Europe in vacation stakes

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Americans returning to work from
summer vacation ought to feel refreshed, but probably not as
refreshed as colleagues in Europe, where minimum paid leave
beats that for U.S. workers with even 25 years of service.

A report from the Economic Policy Institute on Wednesday
noted that Americans with a quarter century of employment
receive just 19.2 days of annual paid leave on average versus
20 days or more in most European countries.

"Vacation is an important part of work -- a time to get
away from the demands of a job, to enjoy family, and to
rejuvenate. President Bush's extended vacation at his ranch in
Texas reflects this need," said EPI.

Bush has been enjoying a five week break on his ranch in
Crawford -- a stay away from the office that is positively
French in length, where legal minimum annual leave is 25 days.

There is no legal minimum paid leave in the United States,
although many firms grant some vacation time. EPI, citing data
from the U.S. National Compensation Survey, found the average
number of paid vacation days to be 8.9 after one year or work,
11 after three years and 16.2 after 10 years.

Austria, Denmark, Luxembourg and Sweden all match France in
the generosity of legal minimums of paid leave, although
employees can rack up much more time off through length of
service and compensation for overtime. This adds up to weeks in
countries like France, which has a strict 35 hour work-week.

In fact, length of vacation and hours worked go a long way
to explain the wealth gap between the U.S. and Europe.

Having the time off is one thing but being able to afford
to take it is another thing entirely, and in this department
Americans score well. U.S. citizens are a third wealthier per
capita than their counterparts on the other side of the
Atlantic, but they earn this the hard way.

U.S. employees worked an annual average of 1,792 hours in
2003, according to the latest employment outlook from the
Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. This
compares with 1,453 hours in France, 1,446 hours in Germany and
1,673 hours in the United Kingdom.

But the gap may be shrinking. Recently joined members of
the European Union from the former Communist east are turning
out to have a thoroughly 'American' work ethic. Poles clocked
up an average 1,956 hours in 2003 while Czech workers put in an
average 1,972 hours a year, OECD data showed.