Major discrepancies among European Union member states over labour laws and policy over paid holidays continue, according to a survey by consultants Willian M Mercer.
The average leave and public holiday provisions across the EU is 36 days. Austria, Germany and Sweden provide the longest time off - 43, 42 and 41 days respectively.
At the other end of the scale, Belgium and the UK provide only 31 days while Ireland allows just 29.
"Despite the moves to harmonise employment practices in Europe, we still have a long way to go in this area," said Adelaide Barbier, research manager at Mercer. The research was part of its global analysis of employment conditions and benefits in 55 countries worldwide. The findings are contained in its Worldwide Benefit and Employment Guidelines, 2000/2001.
The amount of leave granted is further determined by the minimum statutory requirement - varying from 20 to 30 days - and actual industry practice. Industry practice is to give between 23 and 25 days in most EU states. In Belgium and Italy, though, only 20 days are granted while the Germans and Austrians receive a full 30 days.
Diversity in public holiday entitlements is even more dramatic, Among EU member states, the average number of public holidays is 11. Portugal and Finland are the most generous, with 14. The UK and Netherlands, however, provide just 8.
The survey also finds that the EU working time directive has had a minimal impact on the wide range of different conditions in local member states. "Local requirements for working hours are something of a minefield for multinational employers. Although the EU directive has helped, local variations abound, complicated by the discrepancies in statutory requirements and actual practice through collective agreements," said Barbier.
Around the globe, legislation for maximum working hours of 40 to 48 hours has been passed in most of the 55 countries in the study . The research noted that east Europeans tend to work up to four hours longer each week than citizens of the European Union.
In the US and Canada, 40 hours is the norm, although the US is one of very few nations that has no formally established maximum hours or annual leave entitlements. Normal leave entitlements in the US and Canada is among the lowest in the world.