Public holiday 'chaos' divides industry


Ai Group calls on Fair Work to provide consistency across holiday penalty rates, while ACTU vows to fight 'Scrooge-like' activity

By Jayne Munday | November 9, 2010

The Australian Industry Group has moved to reduce the number of days employers are obligated to pay penalty rates over the holiday period.

With Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day all falling on a weekend this year, states are adopting various approaches to proclaiming holidays.

In Queensland and NSW, Saturday, December 25 and Saturday, January 1 are public holidays.

A substitute holiday for Boxing Day will be on Monday, December 27; an additional holiday for Christmas Day on Tuesday, December 28; and an additional holiday for New Year’s Day on Monday, January 3.

The other states and territories identify various other 'substitute' and 'additional' holidays.

The Ai Group argues that such a disparate system could see employers face public holiday "chaos".

As a result, it has applied to Fair Work Australia (FWA) to take action which will reportedly "clarify the situation and provide consistency across the country".

CEO Heather Ridout says Ai Group has requested the FWA deal with the application as soon as possible.

"Ai Group's application relates to the Manufacturing Modern Award but the relevant clause in that award (clause 44.2) is common in other awards, and the Tribunal’s decision will impact on many industries which operate over the holiday period," she says.

The clarified clause would provide that where Christmas Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, public holiday penalty rates are payable for any work performed on December 27 and public holiday penalty rates are not payable on December 25.

Additionally, where Boxing Day falls on a Saturday or Sunday, public holiday penalty rates are payable for any work performed on December 28 and public holiday penalty rates are not payable on December 26.

Where New Year’s Day or Australia Day fall on a Saturday or Sunday, public holiday penalty rates are payable for any work performed on the following Monday and public holiday penalty rates are not payable on the original day.

"The variation preserves the longstanding arrangements which have applied in the past under federal awards," Ridout says.

"The introduction of Modern Awards and the National Employment Standards from 1 January this year should not impose additional public holiday penalty costs upon employers," she says.

"The Christmas / New Year period is fast approaching and employers need to make decisions about operational arrangements plus give their employees notice of work requirements."

EMPLOYEES ‘MUST GET PENALTY RATES’: ACTU
Meanwhile, the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has hit out against the prevention of penalty rates; saying such "Scrooge-like" activity would set a bad precedent.

It has vowed to oppose any attempt by employers to eliminate penalty rates on Christmas, Boxing and New Year’s days for employees, such as nurses, police, ambulance officers and restaurant and hotel staff, who are required to work on the public holidays.

ACTU President Ged Kearney says any confusion caused by the three public holidays falling on weekends this year could be overcome by all states and territories declaring an additional public holiday for each of those days.

She says the ACTU would consider the Ai Group’s application to vary the Modern Manufacturing Award on its merits, but would strongly oppose any loss of public holiday penalty rates in the wider workforce.

"Christmas Day is a special day," Kearney says. "There should be some additional compensation for people who sacrifice time with their families and choose to work on the actual day.

"We will not allow the pay and conditions of workers to be undermined by mean-spirited employers seeking to shave a few dollars off their costs, particularly at Christmas," she says.

Kearney says if a consequence of the Ai Group’s application was that other workers also lost their penalty rates for working on Christmas and other days, then it would be opposed by unions.

"Unions are concerned that this application by the Ai Group could be the thin edge of the wedge. Workers required to work on public holidays like Christmas should get paid an appropriate penalty rate, regardless of what day of the week it falls on," she says.

"In any case, people should remember that under the National Employment Standards, employees have a right to refuse to work on public holidays. Nobody can be forced to work on Christmas Day."


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