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Working on Australia Day

This Friday, January 26th is Australia Day & signifies the anniversary and the arrival of the First Fleet in 1778. And, the end of summer holidays and back-to-school time. It’s a chance to have one last summer BBQ with friends, head to the beach, or take a breather from the holiday season. 

Whether you call it Australia Day or Invasion Day, the conversation around the day and what it represents is becoming more and more pronounced as the years go by. For many of us Australia Day is a day of mourning, a day that should not be recognised. For more information about what the day is celebrating and why it’s controversial, read this article HERE. 

Internationally and nationally recognised companies such as Paramount, KPMG, Deloitte, Telstra, BHP and Woolworths have publicly announced that their employees can choose to work on the day and take another day off instead.  So, what if you want to work on the day? What rights do you have? 

I want to work!

Review your award or agreement, which states what you can and can’t do. Visit the National Employment Standards website, which outlines what needs to be considered based on your employment (full-time, part-time, casual, etc.). 

Speak to other employees. You might not be alone in your desire to work on the day. If more employees speak up, chances are you have a better case to put forward. 

Have a chat with your manager about wanting to work on the day. Explain your reasoning behind your decision and mention other companies are allowing employees to work on the day. Suggest an alternative day to take off and go over your workload and what you will be able to do even if you’re the only one in the office working on the day.

Workplace laws are in place to set guidelines on what an employer can and can’t do in regards to forcing their influence on employees.

The Fair Work Ombudsman states:

“An employer must not exert undue influence or pressure on an employee in relation to agreeing to substitute a public holiday for another day or part-day.”

However, this is subject to your contract, your workload, and if you have enough work for the full day. 

I want the Day Off!

What if your employer requires you to take the day off? Then what? 

  • Attend one of many rallies around the country. 
  • Support an Indigenous organisation by volunteering on the day or by donating money.
  • Visit one of many Aboriginal art galleries around Melbourne or Sydney.
  • Go on one of many walks to learn about local Aboriginal history (Melbourne, Sydney).
  • Purchase clothes through Clothing the Gaps, which aims to educate, advocate, and elevate Aboriginal culture and history. 

Australia Day is one day out of the year. If you feel passionate about Aboriginal rights, bring it up with your manager about how you can incorporate history and culture into your workplace. Hosting events and speakers and providing volunteer opportunities encourages discussions and hopefully, long-term changes both in the workplace and society. 


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