Australian Public Servants can ask for another day of leave instead of the 26 January Australia Day public holiday, but many seem unaware of that right.
With the date and what it symbolises becoming increasingly controversial, the Federal Government has made provisions for those public servants who do not want to celebrate it.
APS employees can request through their immediate managers or their agency heads to work on 26 January and substitute it for an alternative day’s leave.
It is a provision most state and territory governments – including the ACT – are not providing their public servants.
The federal decision is a conscious and deliberate decision of the Labor government.
Prior to the election, Scott Morrison’s Coalition government forced the federal workforce to take leave on Australia Day, Anzac Day and Queen’s Birthday (now King’s Birthday) public holidays.
A spokesperson for the Australian Public Service Commission told Region that Labor revoked that order soon after coming to office last year.
“Most APS enterprise agreements contain provisions for APS employees to request substitution of a specific public holiday, where agreed between an employee and their manager or agency head,” the spokesperson said.
“The former government’s directive that limited substitution of certain public holidays in new enterprise agreements has been revoked by the Minister for the Public Service, Senator Katy Gallagher.”
Many APS employees, however, are unaware that they can work on the Australia Day holiday.
“It’s just wrong that public servants have to take the day off on January 26,” one told Region.
“It’s an offensive day to so many people and that should be recognised by the Federal Government. No one should be forced to have that day off to commemorate something so hurtful.”
Similar sentiment, and surprise, was repeated by a number of public servants approached by Region.
Many First Nations people object to commemorating 26 January as Australia Day as they regard it as a celebration of the invasion of their country.
The date is instead recognised as a day of mourning by Indigenous Australians.
They are finding increasing support from the broader Australian community, with continued calls for the date to be changed.
Each year more councils around the nation vote to end or curtail Australia Day celebrations in their jurisdictions, and a growing number of non-government and private sector organisations are giving their staff wider choices over when to take their Australia Day leave.
The latest State of the Service report notes that 3.5 per cent of the 159,469 APS workforce identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander.
Services Australia has the largest proportion of Indigenous employees, with 34 per cent of the overall APS Indigenous workforce.
Services Australia is also a leading example in the APS of an agency embedding Indigenous respect in its workplace culture.
It has a Reconciliation Action Plan at ‘elevate’ status, meaning it has taken significant steps in providing career pathways for First Nations people, consultation with Indigenous leadership, dedicated Indigenous mentoring programs and more.