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Victorian government decides Christmas is a public holiday as concerns mount over last minute change

The last minute change to Victoria’s Christmas Day public holiday arrangements...
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Victorian government decides Christmas is a public holiday as concerns mount over last minute changes

Victorian government decides Christmas is a public holiday as concerns mount over last minute changes

29 November 2016

This article was originally featured on SmartCompany. 

The last minute change to Victoria’s Christmas Day public holiday arrangements has left some business groups worried about the potential impact on SMEs that have planned staffing ahead of time.

Christmas Day falls on a Sunday in 2016, and Small Business Minister Philip Dalidakis originally intended for the holiday to be recognised on the 27th in Victoria, with penalty rates only applying on that day.

While the other states and territories observe an additional public holiday in the event that Christmas falls on a weekend, Victoria had a “substitute” holiday in place, until the state government changed its position earlier this month and decided to designate both the 25th and 27th of December as public holidays.

“I’ve had time to consider how the existing arrangements unfairly affect those Victorians required to work on Christmas Day when it falls on a weekend – that’s why I’m making this change,” Small Business Minister Peter Dalidakis said of his decision.

Premier Daniel Andrews championed the change of heart, telling his Facebook fans: “We got it wrong”. The decision has garnered thousands of responses on social media, both from workers who had lobbied the government for the change, and business owners frustrated by the seemingly sudden change of heart.

What it means for businesses

Those employing staff on Christmas Day will now have to pay staff penalty rates for that time worked, in line with their award or enterprise agreement.

For casuals, public holiday rates are often calculated from the employee’s annual base rate, plus the loading that the award designates for the holiday – but the Fair Work Commission encourages employers to review their responsibilities through its pay calculator, and contact the commission directly with any questions about the actual rate of pay.

The act of bringing Victoria in line with other states is not the issue of concern, says Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group, Tim Piper—it’s the speed with which governments change their minds and the overall number of public holidays that now have to be observed.

“This is not so much about the public holiday that we’re talking about—the thing is that it’s been announced so late,” Piper told SmartCompany.

“It becomes farcical – this is not so much about Christmas day, which I think some people agree would have some recognition, but people [need to] be able to plan for it.”

There have been a number of figures on the potential monetary impact of the additional holiday on the Victorian economy, with Ai Group putting this at “up to $100 million”, although an exact figure has been difficult for anyone to pin down.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Mark Stone said the issue was more about the rostering, planning and budgeting that businesses have already done prior to the decision being made, with the government signing off on the two public holidays five weeks before Christmas.

“Businesses will now enter 2017 looking at the Victorian public holiday calendar as a rough guide, knowing that it may be subject to change with just a few weeks’ notice,” he said in a statement.

The government, however, says the impact of the decision is expected to be limited because only a small number of small businesses would open on Christmas Day anyway.

“Our estimation is around 4 to 4.5 percent of all small business … are expected to open or consider opening,” Dalidakis told the ABC.

Piper says if the minister has suggested around 5% of businesses are planning on opening, Ai Group don’t have another figure in mind in terms of how many SMEs will be operating on the 25th.

Some workers have been telling the government that the decision makes them more likely to agree to work on the day. Employees do not have to work on a public holiday unless their employer can request they attend “on reasonable grounds”.

“I have to work on Xmas day and not even triple pay would make me stay away from my family on such a special day,” one Victorian wrote to the government via Facebook.

Business groups remain concerned about what the holiday means for future decisions around public holidays in the state.

“This brings us into line with other states – but the government just seems to be doing it willy-nilly ,” Piper says, saying the removal of the Grand Final Eve public holiday would have been “a more sensible option” than doubling up this year.

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