Calls for Christmas penalty rates

RALLY: Union representatives rally outside MP Troy Bell's office last week.

Charlotte Varcoe

KEY union members rallied outside Member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell’s office last week to protest Christmas Day not being classed as an official public holiday.

Members from the United Workers Union (UWU), Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF) and Shop Distributive and Allied Employee Association (SDA) came together to protest the decision which is being debated in state parliament this week.

In parliament, Mr Bell put forward an amendment to the legislation which changed Christmas Eve from a public holiday to a regular work day in a trade off for Christmas Day to be changed to a public holiday.

SDA secretary Josh Peak said the three major unions had toured the state over the past few weeks to discuss their concerns with independent members.

Mr Peak said the independent state members had the opportunity to support the legislation which would allow Christmas Day to be labelled a public holiday.

“We think it is a no-brainer that Christmas Day should be a public holiday and we in South Australia will be the only state in the country where it isn’t,” Mr Peak said.

“We don’t agree with Mr Bell’s amendment because Christmas Eve is only classed as a public holiday for a few hours on the Friday night and is a different set of workers.

“This is unfair for them to work late on Christmas Eve and not receive penalty rates.”

Mr Peak said those working on Christmas Day and throughout the weekend were predominantly essential workers including petrol attendants and service workers such as disability and aged care.

“These are the same workers who have been front and centre throughout the entire pandemic,” he said.

“It is hard to imagine that workers in Nelson will have penalty rates but those only a few kilometres away won’t.”

UWU representative Jo Sutton echoed Mr Peak’s comments, stating those working in disability, aged care and even those in the prison system would not receive financial compensation.

“Those who are under the United Workers Union are essential workers who are not getting penalty rates on the day they are working away from their family,” Ms Sutton said.

“It is unreasonable because they are doing incredibly important work to keep the state moving and we think that deserves financial compensation.

“It crosses many different industries and workplaces which is why it is such an issue for many unions.”

According to union representatives, nurses and midwives would also be affected alongside others in the public sector.

ANMF representative Elizabeth Dabars said those who were scheduled to work on Christmas Day would be providing extraordinary work for the community and were those who worked on the front line throughout the pandemic.

“To think that their sacrifice of not being home with friends and family on Christmas Day is not being recognised by appropriate penalty rates is really important,” Ms Dabars said.

“The reality is that Christmas Day is an extremely special day and people are missing out on seeing their children opening presents and being with loved ones, but are instead caring for other people’s loved ones.

“It is important work but they should be recognised for that.”