Public Holiday Benefits Vary Worldwide

Colombia, India enjoy most national holidays, Mexico least

By Roy Maurer September 19, 2014

Employees in Colombia and India benefit from the greatest number of public holidays in the world (18 each), while Mexicans have access to the least (seven), according to data from Mercer’s Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines.

Mercer’s report defines employee benefit policies, statutory regulations and employment conditions across the 64 countries in which the company operates.

Public holidays vary from country to country and even year to year, said Ed Hannibal, global leader of Mercer’s Mobility Practice, based in Chicago. “Countries often hold quadrennial [occurring every four years] or one-off holidays for specific cultural or religious events, and some leave the final decisions to local governments.”

Having an awareness of public holiday practices globally is important for multinationals moving employees overseas, Hannibal said. “If benefits like holidays that employees have in their home country are not comparable in their new location, then it may deter them from taking the position and the business could suffer. In order for HR leaders to govern policy and make the most efficient decisions on behalf of the company and its expatriates, accurate and timely assessment of practices is vital.”

The Americas

Canada provides the greatest number of public holidays (11) in North America, although this varies by province. The United States provides 10 federal public holidays; however, private employers are not obligated to give workers the day off. It is at the discretion of the employer, who may choose to offer paid federal holidays as an additional benefit of employment.

“The United States is the only advanced economy in the world that does not guarantee its workers paid vacation days and paid holidays,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, based in Washington, D.C. “Relying on businesses to voluntarily provide paid leave just hasn’t worked.”

According to Schmitt’s data, European countries establish legal rights to at least 20 days of paid vacation per year, in addition to public holidays, with 25 and even 30 or more days in some countries; Australia and New Zealand require employers to grant at least 20 vacation days per year; and Canada and Japan mandate at least 10 paid days off. Most U.S. workers are granted paid days off on the 10 public holidays, but the distribution between wage earners is unequal, according to Schmitt. “Only half of low-wage workers have any paid vacation or holiday benefits, compared to 90 percent of high-wage workers,” he said.

In Latin America, in addition to the countries with the highest (Colombia) and lowest (Mexico) public-holiday provisions, Argentina and Chile have 15 public holidays and Brazil offers 12.


Finland provides the most public holidays (15) in Europe, followed by Russia, Spain and Turkey with 14. Hungary, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom offer the fewest (eight).

Austria, the Czech Republic and Lithuania have 12 public holidays and Croatia, Denmark, France, Italy and Sweden all provide employees with 11. Belgium, Luxembourg, Norway, Poland, Portugal and Ukraine have 10. Germany celebrates nine public holidays. Interestingly, Norway and Sweden do not count Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve as public holidays although these are treated as such by employers, according to Mercer.

Asia Pacific

Thailand and South Korea offer 16 public holidays, followed by Japan (15), and Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines (14). Pakistan (13) is followed by Hong Kong and Taiwan (12), China and Singapore (11), and Vietnam (10). Australia has the lowest number of public holidays in the region with nine.

Often a smaller statutory holiday allowance is offset by a more substantial provision of public holidays and vice versa, said Hannibal. For example, the Philippines has a statutory minimum holiday entitlement of five days but has 14 days of public holiday, he said.

Roy Maurer is an online editor/manager for SHRM.

Follow him at @SHRMRoy

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