In what’s been described as “rushed” and “bad for business” regulation, one Australian state has declared a “part-day” public holiday for Christmas Eve, impacting employers and payroll at one of the busiest times of the year.
Queensland’s Parliament passed the Holidays and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2019 at the end of November, which makes the hours of 6pm to midnight on Christmas Eve (i.e. December 24) a public holiday.
While many businesses shut early on Christmas Eve ahead of the Christmas Day and Boxing Day holidays, those that remain open will be required to amend their payroll systems for employees working during these hours.
The change is due to take effect from this year, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) noted, but as of 3 December had yet to receive royal assent to become law.
Qld not the first to have partial holidays
According to Minister Grace Grace, Queensland now becomes the third Australian jurisdiction to observe a partial public holiday on Christmas Eve, joining the Northern Territory and South Australia.
However, both have their part-day holiday come into effect from 7pm, not Queensland’s 6pm.
Both SA and the NT also observe a similar part-day holiday a week later for New Year’s Eve on 31 December, also from 7pm to midnight.
Despite the minister’s claims of overwhelming support for the new public holiday hours, the Chamber of Commerce and Industry Queensland (CCIQ) slammed the rule change, stating it will have “a devastating impact on businesses this festive season”.
“Sadly, this anti-business, anti-worker and anti-economy measure by Labor has been introduced at a time where business confidence in the state has all but collapsed,” the chamber’s head of advocacy, Amanda Rohan, said immediately after the law was passed.
“Queensland has the highest unemployment rate and total business insolvencies nationally. Small business spoke in the loudest possible terms on the impact of this proposal and have been ignored.”
Ms Rohan told My Business about their “dismay” that the legislation was approved by Parliament despite strong opposition from employers.
“CCIQ was strongly opposed to the introduction of the Christmas Eve Part-Day Public Holiday, and we are dismayed that the legislation has passed. The Palaszczuk government rushed this legislation through, despite the strong evidence of the negative impact it will have,” she said.
“It’s a direct blow to small business.”
She said that business confidence in the Sunshine State is already at “desperately low levels”, and that the additional holiday costs and last-minute payroll adjustments “will be further damaging to businesses that are already struggling”.
“Real people run these businesses and they cannot afford this unnecessary additional cost,” she said.
“At this time of year, they should be looking forward to increased revenue, not worrying about how they will afford more costs.”
Ms Rohan continued: “Seventy-four per cent of businesses have told us that they will either be closing their doors early, not opening them at all, or sending staff home, all which ultimately impact the pay packet of workers.
“This law is bad for Queensland businesses as a whole, but most likely to be hit hard are retail and hospitality as this would normally be the busiest and most profitable time of the year for them.”
Change sparks push for revision of modern awards
Even the Fair Work Commission admitted that the new laws will create “issues” for employers.
“There are a number of issues that arise through the interaction of the part-day public holidays and the common public holiday provisions found in many modern awards,” it said in a statement this week.
It noted that “of the 122 modern awards, 113 currently contain a part-day public holiday schedule”, and admitted that “the proclamation of the part-day public holidays has given rise to a number of ambiguities and uncertainties in the provisions of the modern awards”.
The commission noted that associations including the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) and the Pharmacy Guild of Australia have already proposed amending their relevant modern awards to reflect the change in Queensland, and that it has provisionally accepted the AHA’s amendments.
“Further, pursuant to the commission’s power to vary a modern award on its own initiative in s 157(3)(a), it is our provisional view that the additional 112 awards with a part-day public holiday schedule should be varied in the same terms as submitted by the AHA for the Hospitality Award,” it said.
However, the PGA’s proposal will not be addressed by the commission “at this time”, stating that “the PGA is invited to make an application to vary the Pharmacy Award and that application will be listed for hearing early next year”.
The Fair Work Commission’s lengthy communique on modern awards in light of the Queensland law change can be found on its website.
My Business also approached the Fair Work Ombudsman for comment on the situation and what advice it will be giving employers to comply with the new rules.
Adam Zuchetti is the editor of My Business, and has steered the publication’s editorial direction since early 2016.