Staff across federal government agencies are discovering just how flexible their bosses are about swapping this week’s Australia Day holiday for another day’s leave.
Many have been left disappointed over denied requests to work on Thursday, despite the Government saying they could take an alternative day off.
It is leading to significant unrest in some agencies, with some staff believing they are being discriminated against.
While the Labor Government has made much noise about reversing a Coalition order that public servants must observe 26 January as the public holiday, ministers have also referred to each department’s enterprise bargaining agreement.
And that’s where Australian public servants are discovering that some are more equal than others.
Some agencies are publicising internally that staff can swap days if celebrating 26 January is against their values.
Internal memos even appear to encourage staff to take another day off – and managers are taking the opportunity to promote their agency’s recognition of diversity in the workplace.
But while these departments are patting themselves on the back to their staff, others are steadfastly refusing to accommodate such requests if the provision is not explicitly stated in their EBA.
Memos in some of these agencies are actually telling staff that their EBA does not allow for swapping any public holidays, “including the upcoming Australia Day” leave.
“This is outrageous,” a senior APS contact told Region.
“Employees in one department can express their unease over January 26 and be permitted a different time off, but in another department, they can’t.
“The EBA is being used against staff who have very valid reasons to not want to have a day off on January 26.”
Another source said: “The government is praising itself as being progressive on this issue and making us believe January 26 can be optional, but they’re not pointing out that it only applies to some.”
First Nations people have long campaigned for Australia Day to be commemorated on a day other than 26 January because they see that date as a day of invasion and hurt.
They are finding growing support for this sentiment in the broader Australian community.
More private sector businesses than ever before are allowing staff to swap the public holiday for another day off, as are most non-government enterprises.
Knowing this, just before last year’s election, Scott Morrison ordered all Commonwealth public servants to observe Australia Day on 26 January.
Upon being elected, Labor reversed that order and reverted to previous arrangements.
“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,” a spokesperson for the Australian Public Service Commission said in a statement to Region.
“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.”
In her public statements, Senator Gallagher noted that it had to be allowable in an agency’s EBA.
“Basically, what’s happening this year is the same as what’s happened in years past,” she said.
“In people’s enterprise agreements in the APS, there’s been the ability for many years to substitute days based on operational requirements in consultation with your managers, if that’s allowable in the EBA …
“Part of our election policy was to allow a return to genuine bargaining in the APS, to allow for bargaining between departments and their employees, with their employee representatives and unions at the table. And this is in line with that policy.”
For some, however, this year’s Australia Day commemorations have come too soon for inflexible managers to be able to cope with requests for alternative arrangements.