Countries With the Most Vacation Days

The United States is the only developed country in the world without a single legally required paid vacation day or holiday. By law, every country in the European Union has at least four work weeks of paid vacation.

Austria, which guarantees workers the most time off, has a legal minimum of 22 paid vacation days and 13 paid holidays each year. The average private sector U.S. worker receives 16 paid vacation days and holidays. One in four Americans does not have a single paid day off. Based on a report released by the Center for Economic Policy and Research (CEPR), 24/7 Wall St. identified the countries where workers get at least 30 days off a year.

Click here to see in which  countries workers get the most time off

Several nations providing workers with a great deal of time off can afford to be generous. Germany, where the economy remains strong, had an unemployment rate of just 5.5% in 2012. Similarly, New Zealand’s unemployment rate was just 6.9% last year. Both are well below the 8.0% Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) unemployment rate, as well as the 8.1% rate in the United States.

Still, some nations giving workers a generous combination of paid, legally protected vacation days and holidays currently are struggling economically. France, Italy, Portugal and Spain each had an unemployment rate in excess of 10% last year. Spain’s unemployment rate of 25.1% was the worst among the 34 OECD member nations. The gross domestic product (GDP) of three of these four nations shrank in 2012, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF). In France, GDP rose by just 0.03%.

Because time-off is time not spent productively working, it would seem to be an expense that countries with struggling economies cannot afford. To make matters worse, “workers who have vacation and paid holidays also tend to have much higher levels of other benefits such as health insurance and retirement plans,” said John Schmitt, senior economist at Centre for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). Of the eight nations requiring workers receive 30 days off a year, only New Zealand’s government spent proportionally less than the U.S.’s 40.3% of GDP, while four nations spent more than 50% of GDP.

But experts consulted by 24/7 Wall St. expressed doubt that the overall effect of extra time off on the economy is negative. Schmitt told 24/7 Wall St. “paid vacation and holidays don’t appear to have any meaningful impact on macroeconomic outcomes.” Pascal Marianna, a labor markets statistician at the OECD, noted that France and Germany had a similar number of vacation days, but very different economies. While Germany’s economy continues to do well, France is mired in a recession.

Because the United States is the second-most productive developed country as measured by GDP per capita and has no mandatory vacation time, some might argue that vacation reduces productivity. However, in another measure of labor productivity — GDP per hour worked — the U.S. was only marginally better than Germany and France, both developed countries that guarantee among the most vacation time. Of course, it is worth noting that the average U.S. employee also clocks 20% more hours per worker than those in Germany or France.

While CEPR and others argue that an economy’s productivity can be improved by awarding more vacation, not all countries see it as worthwhile. Portugal, for one, decided to eliminate four of its national holidays beginning in 2013 as part of its most recent austerity measures.

To determine the countries where workers get the most time off, 24/7 Wall St. relied on figures from CEPR’s study “No-Vacation Nation Revisited.” To account for the fact that holidays in many nations are determined at a regional level and are based on the number of days worked, the organization standardized both paid vacation days and paid holidays awarded to workers. We also considered figures published by the OECD for 2012 unemployment and both hours worked and labor productivity in 2011. IMF figures, most for 2012, on real GDP growth, GDP per capita (adjusted for purchasing power parity), and both debt and government spending as a percentage of GDP were used also.

These are the countries where workers get the most time off.

8. New Zealand
> Days off per year: 30 (tied for 6th highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,762 hours
> Labor productivity: $34.10 per hour
> GDP per capita: $29,730
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 6.9%

New Zealand is the only OECD nation outside of continental Europe that requires workers receive at least 30 work days of paid vacation and holidays, combined. According to New Zealand’s Holidays Act, workers who work during a national holiday must be paid one-and-a-half times their normal pay. Currently, the nation’s economy is fairly strong. Based on IMF projections, the country’s GDP is expected to rise faster than nearly all other developed countries in the next several years.

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7. Italy
> Days off per year: 30 (tied for 6th highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,774 hours
> Labor productivity: $46.60 per hour
> GDP per capita: $30,136
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 10.7%

Workers in Italy are entitled to the EU mandated four weeks of vacation, equal to 20 vacation days, each year. In addition, Italy has 10 national paid holidays. Workers receive extra pay even when these holidays are not on workdays. Former Prime Minister Mario Monti had passed reforms in recent years to improve the Italian job market, which he noted was composed of overprotected older workers and young workers unable to find a job. These reforms were intended to allow Italian companies to cut jobs as needed, while also discouraging businesses from misusing temporary contracts as a way to avoid hiring workers full time. However, in the most recent election, Monti was resoundingly voted out of power. In 2012, the unemployment rate in Italy was 10.7%, one of the highest among the nations analyzed by CEPR.

6. Belgium
> Days off per year: 30 (tied for 6th highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,577 hours
> Labor productivity: $59.50 per hour
> GDP per capita: $37,883
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 7.6%

Workers in Belgium get 20 vacation days and 10 public holidays per year. However, they cannot use vacation time until they have worked for their employer for at least one year. A day off is guaranteed for each of the 10 public holidays, and if workers are needed for one of those holidays, they must be given another day off within the week. Belgian workers are nearly as productive as American workers, at $59.50 per hour versus $60.20 per hour, respectively. However, growth in Belgium has stalled, and GDP shrank by 0.2% in 2012. The IMF estimated that government spending totaled nearly 55% of GDP in 2012 and has recommended that Belgium cut government expenses and push through broad labor reforms.

5. France
> Days off per year: 31
> Annual hours worked: 1,476 hours
> Labor productivity: $57.70 per hour
> GDP per capita: $35,548
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 10.3%

France has just one public holiday for which workers are guaranteed a paid day off every year — International Workers Day on May 1. However, France also allows its workers to take off 30 days a year. These vacation days begin to accrue as soon as an employee is hired. Despite these policies, the country has shown it is willing to ask workers to sacrifice for the nation’s economic well-being. Recently, France passed labor reforms that make it easier for businesses to cut jobs while also boosting benefits for contracted workers. The French are highly productive workforce, generating $57.70 per hour in value, versus $60.20 per hour in the United States as of 2011. Still, the IMF has stated France’s reforms do not go far enough, and that the nation will have to continue enacting more labor reforms as well as cut both taxes and government spending.

4. Spain
> Days off per year: 34 (tied for 3rd highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,685 hours
> Labor productivity: $47.50 per hour
> GDP per capita: $30,557
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 25.1%

In addition to 12 national holidays, workers in Spain receive, at a minimum, 22 vacation days per year. And through collective bargaining, this figure may be even higher in some workplaces. However, while employers in Spain are required by law to give employees a total of over one month off a year, a large portion of Spanish workers cannot even find jobs. According to the OECD, Spain’s unemployment rate in 2012 was 25.1%, higher than any other member country. As part of its broader reforms enacted in 2012 to close its deficit, Spain capped severance pay to reduce firing costs and passed new rules that would limit collective bargaining for wages. Some advocates have pushed for further reform, with the Bank of Spain advocating for the temporary elimination of the country’s minimum wage.

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3. Germany
> Days off per year: 34 (tied for 3rd highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,406 hours
> Labor productivity: $55.80 per hour
> GDP per capita: $30,028
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 5.5%

Germany has just one national public holiday for which all workers receive a day off, German Unity Day, celebrated on October 3. In addition, there are between nine to 13 paid holidays, in addition to the 24 paid vacation days. Unlike many other eurozone nations, Germany has fairly low unemployment, with just 5.5% of workers out of a job as of 2012. Different explanations have been put forward to explain the “German jobs miracle,” including a lack of raises, more skilled labor force, reforms that made Germany’s employment agency more productive and the popularization of “minijobs” — which give workers a 450 euro paycheck for up to 15 hours a week in work.

2. Portugal
> Days off per year: 35 (tied for the highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,711 hours
> Labor productivity: $32.40 per hour
> GDP per capita: $23,385
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 15.9%

Portugal requires that every worker receives 22 vacation days each year. In addition to this, CEPR notes that Portugal has 13 public holidays every year. Typically, employees are required to give workers a day off on these holidays, or to be compensated with either another day off or double their daily wage. However, starting this year, Portugal will suspend four of it holidays for five years as part of the nation’s greater economic austerity movement. In 2012, the nation’s economy shrank by 3.2%, worse than any other nation reviewed except Greece. Between 2008 and 2012, Portugal’s debt skyrocketed from 71.6% of GDP to 123%.

Also Read: States Spending the Most on Education

1. Austria
> Days off per year: 35 (tied for the highest)
> Annual hours worked: 1,598 hours
> Labor productivity: $51.60 per hour
> GDP per capita: $42,409
> Unemployment rate, 2012: 4.4%

Austrians effectively receive 22 working days of paid vacation a year, according to CEPR. But numerous conditions exist that can make this number even higher. Workers with 25 years of work experience, or those who work strenuous jobs during nighttime hours, are entitled to additional time off. Austria also has 13 paid holidays, and employees who do work on these days must be compensated with time off or twice their daily wage. At just 4.5% in 2012, Austria had a lower unemployment rate than any other country in the eurozone. Possibly helping to keep unemployment so low, Austria has a long-standing apprenticeship program that helps find employment for much of the country’s youngest workers, although the popularity of the program has faded in recent decades.

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