Experts have spoken out about the legitimacy of Australians choosing their own public holidays as some large companies and government departments choose whether their staff will work on Australia Day.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announced that it was ‘good’ to give workers – in the public or private sector – the choice to work or not on 26 January.
The Labor government overturned the Morrison government’s short-term ban on public servants working on January 26 – allowing employees to take another day off if they don’t want to mark the occasion.
It comes after Woolworths, Telstra, Network 10 and some of the Big Four accounting firms declared January 26 ‘not a day of celebration’ and instead gave their employees the option to work ‘out of respect for all First Nations people’.
HR Expert Australia managing director Matthew Thomas told Daily Mail Australia an employee is usually able to take another day off on January 26 but it all depends on their contract of employment.
Big companies are giving their employees the choice to work on Australia Day and take another day off if they don’t want to mark the occasion.
‘If an employer wants to allow their employees to swap a national public holiday for another day, is that legal?’, Mr Thomas said.
‘The answer depends on the employment instrument that governs the employee.’
There are three types of employment instruments available to Australians including the National Employment Standards (NES), Modern Awards and Enterprise Agreements.
Australians wishing to work on Australia Day should check their award or contract for any clauses that allow for other days instead of public holidays.
‘If that is the case, there is no problem in allowing an employee to work on a public holiday and move the day to another normal day of their choice,’ Mr Thomas said.
He said workers not covered by an enterprise agreement or award would still be able to transfer their public holidays as long as their employer agreed to the swap.
Mr Thomas said the trend to allow workers to swap the Australia Day public holiday because of the negative connotations associated with January 26 had benefits for all parties involved.
The Fair Work Ombudsman explained that the decision not to work, to substitute a day off for work or a public holiday, must be agreed by the employee and their boss.
‘There can be many benefits for an employer to allow an employee to take another day off instead of a public holiday,’ said Thomas.
‘[There’s] A high level of engagement, a focus on diversity and inclusion and productivity benefits such as the ability to continue business throughout the week as opposed to shutting down the organization.’
The National Employment Standards outline various factors that must be considered before selecting a different date for a public holiday.
Companies must consider the worker’s type of employment – full-time, part-time, casual or shift work – personal circumstances and any penalty rates or compensation related to public holidays, as well as the amount of notice.
The Fair Work Ombudsman website states that an employer must not ‘exercise undue influence or pressure’ on an employee in relation to public holiday substitution.
While focusing on Australia Day, the National Employment Standard covers workers on Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and the King’s Birthday and any other state or territory specified holidays.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese (pictured) said the move was about giving Aussie workers ‘flexibility’ to choose how they celebrate the holiday.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese told KIIS FM’s Kyle & Jackie O on January 20 that giving workers choice is about flexibility.
‘It depends on each department, as it depends on employers in other areas,’ Mr Albanese said.
‘So some employers say if you want to work on Australia Day, you can take another day off.
‘And I think it’s good to have some flexibility in the system. I myself will be very busy on Australia Day. I have a full schedule, and I’m really looking forward to it.’
It comes after a series of major companies effectively canceled Australia Day for workers.
Supermarket chain Woolworths claims Australia Day – which commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet – is considered a painful celebration for Aboriginal groups.
A Woolworths spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia, ‘With more than 160,000 team members across the country, we are proud to be a snapshot of Australian society.
‘To that end, we recognize January 26 is different things to different people. We think it’s up to each team member to decide which day is right for them.
‘We wholeheartedly focus on our commitment to reconciliation, including supporting the goals of the Uluru Statement.’
Woolworths workers (pictured) have been given the option to choose whether to celebrate Australia Day after the supermarket chain recognized it as a painful celebration for Aboriginal people.
Around 29,000 employees will now be able to choose whether to work on Australia Day after a vote on the issue in early 2022.
Telco-giant Telstra recently followed suit, allowing its 29,000 employees to choose whether to work on Australia Day in 2022 after the company voted on the matter.
A Telstra spokesperson told Daily Mail Australia, ‘Our employees have the choice of working on Australia Day or taking another day off.
‘This flexibility is built into the enterprise agreement voted on by our staff earlier this year.’
Telstra’s decision comes after Network 10 told staff they could choose how to spend the national holiday and it was ‘not a day of celebration’ for Indigenous Australians.
Paramount Network Ten’s owner and chief content officer, Beverly McGarvey, and co-chief Jarrod Villani announced the change in an email to all editorial and programming staff with the subject line ‘January 26’.
Channel 10 bosses told staff they had the option to work on January 26 and recognize the date as a ‘non-celebration day’ for First Nations people (pictured, project host)
The couple told staff the date was ‘not a day of celebration’ for Aboriginal people and said staff could decide whether the day would be treated as a public holiday or work.
‘At Paramount ANZ we aim to create a safe place to work where cultural differences are appreciated, understood and respected,’ the couple wrote in the email, first published by The Australian’s Media Diary column.
‘For our First Nations people, we as an organization recognize that January 26 is not a day of celebration.
‘We recognize that there has been a turbulent history, particularly around that date and the recognition of that date as Australia Day.
‘We recognize that January 26th evokes different emotions in the business for our employees, and we are receptive to those employees who do not feel comfortable taking this day as a public holiday.’
Some of the Big Four accounting firms, including Deloitte, KPMG and EY, implemented policies to allow employees to work on January 26.
Aboriginal and First Nations people have marked the public holiday as ‘Invasion Day’ and are rallying across the country (pictured, Aboriginal Resistance to Invasion Day warrior posters).
Australia Day has become increasingly controversial, with many campaigning for the holiday to be scrapped altogether or the date changed.
The public holiday commemorates the landing of the first fleet in Sydney Harbour, when Governor Arthur Phillip raised the British flag to mark the founding of New South Wales on 26 January 1788.
However, since 1938, Aboriginal and First Nations people have observed the public holiday as a day of mourning and named it ‘Invasion Day’ instead.
This year’s Invasion Day rallies in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on January 26 will protest against the federal government’s plans for a national referendum on introducing an advisory body on Aboriginal affairs into the constitution.
List of companies offering public holiday swap policies
They got it
Argon & Co
Government – EBA
Hall and Wilcox
HBA is legal
Landers and Rogers
Mark is a lawyer
Shine is a lawyer
Slater and Gordon
They don’t (at least not yet).
Allen and Overy
Norton Rose Fulbright
Source: Aussie Corporate
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