Push for annual leave ‘gifting’ a concern for small businesses

A New South Wales mother whose son was diagnosed with leukaemia is this week calling for legislation to allow employees to donate their annual leave to their colleagues.

With Aussies being known to stockpile their holiday leave, Sonja Malcolm is hoping a bill adopted in France last month, inspired by a father who was gifted weeks of annual leave to spend time with his terminally ill son, will gain support here.

Malcolm told the ABC her colleagues were inspired to donate their annual leave when her son became ill, but came up against industrial relation roadblocks.

“I had a number of colleagues who were long-term full-time employees … they would say to me ‘I’ve got months and months of accumulated leave. If I could give it to you, I would’,” she said.

She is now pushing for Australian legislation to match the French law.

“It’s such a simple solution. It’s so logical and it’s a way that people in the workplace can gather together to do something to help,” she said.

Mark Wooden from the University of Melbourne’s Institute of Applied Social and Economic Research told SmartCompany the scheme would open a potential can of worms for employers.

Wooden said on face value, compassionate grounds should allow for this to happen on a case-by-case basis and industrial relation laws were often too restrictive in these sorts of areas.

“But people are paid different salaries, so what happens if someone on a low salary wants to donate their leave to someone on a higher salary? You’ve just increased the cost for the business,” said Wooden.

He said while larger firms may be able to handle one employee taking a lengthy period of leave, the scheme would certainly create problems for smaller businesses.

Peter Strong, executive director of the Council of Small Business of Australia, told SmartCompany legislating the “gifting” of annual leave would create a range of problems for small businesses.

“If you make it compulsory, that creates a lot of paperwork and a situation that is untenable,” said Strong.

“What if one person wants to give their leave and one person doesn’t? That could become very complicated.”

Strong said a focus on flexibility around leave, rather than legislation, was key to the success of a scheme of this kind.


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