Australia Day is an automatic day off for many workers, but most still want the option to work

Workers want more flexibility around public holidays.

Workers want more flexibility around public holidays. Photo: TND/Getty

As debate rages over major retailers scaling back Australia Day merchandise availability, many workers aren’t completely set on taking the day off to celebrate.

Research by job search engine Indeed found three in four Australians want the option to work and not observe the public holiday on January 26.

More than half of the working population already have the choice, and about 58 per cent of that group have chosen to not take Australia Day as a public holiday.

WithYouWithMe, a skills-based hiring and workforce management company, is one organisation where workers are given the choice to work on public holidays and take another day off instead.

Cia Kouparitsas, WithYouWithMe chief customer officer, said the global nature of their jobs meant many employees prefer to work through public holidays.

Many employees at Cia Kouparitsas’ organisation prefer to work through public holidays. Photo: LinkedIn

“What’s really interesting is that public holidays were typically set based on the notion that work is geographic-based, whether it’s state or national,” she said.

“The workforce, and the nature of work, looks very different now and many roles aren’t confined based on geography.

“Responsibilities transcend boundaries, and with that comes a need to take a different approach sometimes and be really flexible [compared] to that traditional model.”

University of Melbourne chair in management Daniel Samson said except for workers in sectors that have traditionally stayed open for business on public holidays, such as hospitality, it would be surprising if many Australians choose not to take a day off since they’re already used to having a public holiday.

But money is a big motivating factor, especially in today’s tightening economic climate.

“Lots of people, let’s face it, are doing it pretty tough,” Samson said.

“And we all know why: Because of everything that’s costing so much more than it did a couple of years ago thanks to inflation of energy prices, grocery prices, and everything else.

“So people are looking for an extra few dollars, especially if Australia Day is still an official public holiday, so they’ll be achieving penalty rates for working.”

Indeed research confirmed earning extra money was the most popular reason for working on Australia Day (89 per cent), followed by having the flexibility to select a different day to have off work (78 per cent).

Not believing January 26 should be a day of celebration was the third most popular reason for working on the day (66 per cent).

“The lessening popularity of Australia Day, let’s face it, is because of the notion of it being interpreted by a good chunk of the population as ‘Invasion Day’,” Samson said.

“Which means that for many people, it’s a holiday that’s got a tarnished [reputation] as a result of the publicity.”

Indeed workplace expert Lauren Anderson said public holidays are not one size fits all.

“When a business is able to offer flexible leave, it can provide a number of benefits. It enables workers to observe days of personal or religious significance to them,” she said.

“Three out of five workers say they would be more likely to work for an employer who offers a flexible leave policy, therefore in a tight labour market flexible leave can be an attractive benefit.”

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