Finance

Ombudsman urges governments to scrap four-day-long Easter public holiday weekend and go back to the “sensible days”

Emma Koehn /

Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell has urged state governments to rethink their approach to the Easter holiday period, saying the decision by most states to observe four public holidays in a row presents a “really, really difficult time” for small businesses.

Each Australian state observes different trading rules across the Easter period, but in many areas of the country, businesses must pay staff penalty rates across all four days of the upcoming long weekend.

Carnell says this presents “a great dilemma” for smaller shops, whose customers expect them to be open over holiday periods. She says many will struggle to put on the required levels of staff to cope with demand, because the increased wages bill will put pressure on profits.

“For the smaller guys, it means they have four public holidays in a row. This doesn’t happen at any other time across the year. They’re paying up to double-time for these, sometimes double-time-and-a-quarter, and they don’t have the option of closing, because customers want them to be able to stay open over this time,” she says.

Carnell says something has to change.

Let’s go back to the sensible days, where Good Friday and Easter Monday were public holidays,” she says. 

“Generally, state governments have now gone to four public holidays, not even having a scenario where Easter Saturday was a normal trading day.” 

This year, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria will observe all four days of the long weekend as public holidays.

However, this will be the first Easter period where smaller employers in the pharmacy, retail, hospitality and fast food spaces will be able to pay workers the lower penalty rate loadings, which came in on July 1 last year after a decision from the Fair Work Commission.

Under the new rules, full and part-time workers covered by the Hospitality, Retail, Fast Food, Pharmacy and Restaurant Awards must be paid a 225% loading, down from the 250% they were paid last Easter.

Casual workers in these awards are paid a 250% loading rate on public holidays.

Carnell believes even with these changes, the Easter period still puts pressure on small businesses. The ombudsman’s office is asking customers to be patient with smaller operators across the long weekend.

“Bear with them, including if your local cafe is charging a surcharge,” she says.

Several hospitality businesses have previously told SmartCompany that they have successfully implemented surcharges on public holidays by explaining clearly to their customers why this is necessary.

“I try and maintain a dialogue with my customers to talk about what the issues are that they have and to try and make sure there’s an understanding about what my issues are in the business. It’s about making sure I’m running as sustainably as possible,” owner of Wangaratta business Cafe Derailleur, Eric Bittner, has previously told SmartCompany.

NOW READ: Australia Day surcharge leaves customers cheesed off at Domino’s

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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  • Robert M

    Absolutely gobsmackingly unfair that those states have chosen to make all four days public holidays. Who in their right mind can justify that point of view?

  • jota6689

    for smaller shops, whose customers expect them to be open over holiday periods,. Wrong. The only ones that expect this are the shopping centre owners with their draconian lease agreements that small business owners are ill advised to sign.

  • Cassandra Wright

    The majority of those who can’t take this weekend off are those in the service, hospitality and retail industries, who often have to work with no weekend loading. It is incredibly unfair to expect them not to get public holiday rates on Easter Sunday, while ‘regular’ 9-5 office workers enjoy the benefits of Good Friday and Easter Monday. I remember, as a teenager, having to work Easter Sunday in fast food with no bonus, missing out on family traditions and celebrations, while others made public holiday rates on the following day. I am so glad that the 4 days are now public holidays in Victoria.

  • haydn

    Sorry Emma but the title seems to have nothing to do with actually scrapping a 4 day weekend. It’s really about the need for all the States to have a uniform approach to penalty rates applying over Easter.
    I agree that having different regimes applying to different awards in the various states and territories is ludicrous but this is the cost of failing to have federal oversight of this kind of activity.

  • haydn

    Sorry Emma but the title seems to have nothing to do with actually scrapping a 4 day weekend. It’s really about the need for all the States to have a uniform approach to penalty rates applying over Easter.
    I agree that having different regimes applying to different awards in the various states and territories is ludicrous but this is the cost of failing to have federal oversight of this kind of activity.

  • ChrisMich

    Hey Emma, thanks for your editorial, interesting article & yes, I agree with the point of view. However, can you please refrain from using “provocative” titles that bear no link to the story. Appreciate you need to arouse attention; I’m sure you can achieve without misleading…Thx Emma…

  • bezbox

    I think the only day you could legitimately claim should not be a public holiday is Saturday. The other three seem fair and reasonable.

  • jimmy55

    I run a business and thought friday and Monday were public holidays , and the others would be treated as any normal weekend rates that apply. That would be the the way to do it. If we have changed that we are backward.

    In Germany so many shops close afternoon on Saturday. Even Bauhuas their Bunnings is closed on sundays, like the majority of others shops, Have a break, we dont have to shop. They dont have to be open 7 days. Germany has 25% and 50% penalty rates, where we have 50% and 100%. Plus unless you work a longish day you dont get any penalty rates till you have worked 38 hours. Most of their supermarkets are not open on Sunday. Aldi is not.

    Maybe thats why their country is doing a lot more business than us.

    In Germany shops open a bit later and close bit later so people who work in factories can shop after work.

    Its a much better organized nation than here.

    Australia is so backward is so many ways,

  • Chookman

    I think that if small businesses wish to open on public holidays they should do so – and the owners and their families should be the ones who are working those businesses because that is what they want.