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This concerns UK Employment Law, specifically England.

I work in a field that has shifts on Christmas and New Years' day, albeit very few positions so a significant number of the workforce is forced to take leave if they don't just happen to have their rest days in their 8-day cycle fall on them. I'm essentially on a zero-hour contract, however my contract says that when work is available I will be given 24 hour/week "basic". There is usually more than enough work to go around and I can ask for overtime, with the exception of a few days in winter when our client airlines reduce their schedules.

Before the pandemic, there was always a race for people to book Christmas off as the vast majority fairly reasonably don't want to work on Christmas Day and some are reliant on public transit (the company knows this and chose to hire us anyway). We're usually done by 11am unless a flight is delayed so it's not like I can't enjoy the holidays and work them (I can also refuse to work the past my scheduled finish time), however unless they remember to put me on shifts with colleagues who I can get a ride to/from work, it gets prohibitively expensive to get to and from work in a taxi.

About a year before I started, the employment contract for new employees was changed. Staff before this point receive double pay for working bank holidays such as Christmas and New Year's Day. We, the newer staff, don't have that luxury. The older staff do not get double rate for leave taken on bank holidays, however.

Because of the pandemic, the situation regarding Christmas is uncertain. It's widely suspected that the company, trying to cut losses after keeping two thirds of the workforce on furlough for months and (to their credit) covering the last 20% of our paychecks, is going to only give the shifts to the staff they don't have to pay double rate for, and only approve leave for those who are paid double rate or otherwise force them to take leave. Because of our contracts, the newer staff will cost the half the amount the older staff will. The management has reshuffled after a couple of them left, so we don't know if they're still aware of the issues we face or not, if they are willing to make those accomodations, or are going to assign shifts based on how much it'll cost alone.

I know employers can choose when we can take leave, but what's the legality in this situation, could this be considered discriminatory in any way, for example, if someone who made the leave request first is deferred over someone more expensive to have in work?

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If everyone hired after date X has a different contract from anyone hired before that date it is not discriminatory. (As long as they do nothing naughty like changing the contract, hiring three black people, changing the contract back).

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