Employers could force their staff to work on Christmas Day unless an extra public holiday is declared, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.
ACTU president Ged Kearney says the inconsistency across the states towards public holidays is confusing, and has called for a uniform approach.
This year, Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Years Day all fall on a weekend, which has led the states to proclaim different combinations of substitute and additional days off on following Mondays or Tuesdays.
New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and WA have already declared Christmas Day to be a public holiday this year.
But Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory have not, instead declaring a day in the following week as a substitute public holiday.
The ACTU says this will affect thousands of workers in “around-the-clock” industries including hospitals, shops, cafés, public transport and security, as they won’t be entitled to refuse to work on Christmas Day for family or religious reasons.
In addition, the ACTU says these workers will not receive public holiday penalty rates, but will only be paid what they normally would earn for working on a Saturday.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Heather Ridout says the ACTU’s plan to seek proclamation of additional public holidays would lead to even more “double dipping”.
“The way that public holidays are proclaimed is vitally important, given that it impacts upon the penalty rates payable for days worked,” Ridout says.
The Australian Industry Group today lodged a submission to Fair Work Australia to clarify public holiday penalties over the Christmas and New Year period.
“Our application aims to head off public holiday chaos with six states adopting five different approaches to proclaiming Christmas/New Year public holidays this year,” Ridout says.
Earlier today, it was announced that hundreds of supermarkets – including Coles – will be closed on Boxing Day, and no food deliveries will be made, as a result of changes to shop trading legislation by the NSW government.
Coles will be able to open 84 stores in “tourist areas” on Boxing Day but the other 200 stores it would like to open have to remain shut.
The NSW government introduced the legislation in an attempt to ensure better working conditions for workers over the Christmas public holiday period.
But Coles has accused the government of bowing down to the unions.
Coles spokesman Robert Hadler told The Daily Telegraph the unions are taking advantage of Christmas falling on a weekend this year.