Next Monday, most Australians will be kicking up their heels and enjoying a public holiday courtesy of Her Majesty the Queen. Except in Western Australia, where the state doesn’t celebrate her birthday until October 1.
Sounds straightforward, but for employers whose workers receive national public holidays and work through state ones – including the media and just about any business that runs a national contact centre – the fact Western Australia doesn’t take Queen’s Birthday in June raises an important question: Is this really a national holiday?
The answer is yes – and no – but mainly yes. Confused? So are we.
According to Fair Work Australia, the National Employment Standards introduced by the federal Labor government as part of its Fair Work regime allows for the following national public holidays:
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- New Year’s Day (January 1)
- Australia Day (January 26)
- Good Friday
- Easter Monday
- Anzac Day (April 25)
- Queen’s Birthday
- Christmas Day (December 25)
- Boxing Day (December 26)
However, with the Queens’s Birthday holiday, there is no specific fixed date. Instead, it is to be taken “on the day on which it is celebrated in a state or territory or a region of a state or territory”.
So it is a national holiday that every worker gets, but it is taken on the day that it has been gazetted by the state government.
It’s just another example of how public holidays in Australia have been a problem for small and emerging businesses for many years. They’re chaotic, with each state handling their holidays differently, and they can be very expensive.
Daniel Mammone, director of workplace policy and legal affairs at the Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, told SmartCompany the business group has had problems with the states not giving businesses enough time to prepare for public holidays.
“The issue we’ve had in the most recent past was additional days being [suddenly] prescribed and declared and then penalty rates needing to be paid,” he says.
ACCI submitted a discussion paper in February this year to the Inquiry into the Fair Work Act that recommended public holiday payments should be limited to one public holiday, not two in a row such as on New Year’s Day.
It also recommended that, for industrial relations purposes, public holiday dates need to be certain and stable.
Richard Clancy, executive director of industry, policy and workplace relations at the Victorian Employers’ Chamber of Commerce and Industry, agrees.
“The more standard terms and conditions are, the easier it is for business,” he says. “There are some quirks in the current system.”
There have been suggestions over the years that public holidays in Australia should be standardised. However Clancy says that would be a challenge.
“It’s one of those things; some [holidays] have been around for so long. People get very used to having them,” he says.