We’re nearing perhaps the most contentious public holiday of the year, and again we’re seeing businesses choose not to honour Australia Day, and operate as usual instead.
Marque Lawyers is doing just that, with a tweet from the business saying the decision is “in accordance with our wish that the date of Australia Day be changed to one that is not hurtful”.
We’ll be open for business on 26 January as in previous years, in accordance with our wish that the date of Australia Day be changed to one that is not hurtful. We don’t mind what anyone else chooses to do; it is, to that extent at least, a free country.
— marquelawyers (@marquelawyers) January 19, 2022
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Speaking to SmartCompany, managing partner Michael Bradley says the business owners made the decision to stop acknowledging January 26 as a public holiday about five years ago.
They put the suggestion to the whole staff at the firm to gauge their opinions, and found there was a pretty much unanimous view that employees would like to see the date of Australia Day changed.
“We would like to see Australia Day celebrated on a day that isn’t hurtful to a part of the population, which it clearly is,” Bradley says.
In years past we have seen other small businesses go a step further, acknowledging the day as one of mourning and remembrance for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and donating proceeds from the day to Aboriginal-led charities, for example.
Others, including both Indigenous-led and non-Indigenous led businesses, use their social media platforms to advocate for changing the date of Australia Day, or for canning the public holiday entirely.
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Bradley stresses that he’s not encouraging other businesses to follow Marque’s lead. However he does think it’s important for business owners — and anyone else for that matter — to stand by their beliefs and act in a way that reflects them.
“You‘ve got to be prepared to act on your convictions and be open about it,” he notes.
Ultimately, he would like to see momentum building for the cause to change the date of Australia Day, saying it is “the right thing” to do.
“Businesses and organisations have a big role to play in that, because they can vote with their feet,” he explains.
Small businesses may not have a huge influence individually, he notes. But doing their part combined, they can have a significant effect on the economy.
What do SMEs need to know?
When it comes down to the practicalities and legalities of choosing to disregard a public holiday, Bradley says there’s actually nothing very complicated for small businesses to worry about.
“The legal position is clear,” he says.
“You can’t force employees to work on a public holiday.”
Employees’ rights to take the public holiday must be preserved, he notes, adding that that’s also the right thing to do from an ethical standpoint.
At Marque, all employees have been invited to take the day off on January 28, instead. Some organisations prefer to offer employees an extra day of paid leave to take whenever they choose.
“The best course is to be flexible about it, while respecting everyone’s legal rights and also their personal rights to choose,” he explains.
“You can still make a statement as an organisation consistent with the principle you’ve agreed on.”