Ombudsman urges governments to scrap four-day-long Easter public holiday weekend and go back to the “sensible days”

SmartCompany, March 29, 2018

Small business ombudsman Kate Carnell has urged state governments to rethink their approach to the Easter holiday period, saying the decision by most states to observe four public holidays in a row presents a “really, really difficult time” for small businesses.

Each Australian state observes different trading rules across the Easter period, but in many areas of the country, businesses must pay staff penalty rates across all four days of the upcoming long weekend.

Carnell says this presents “a great dilemma” for smaller shops, whose customers expect them to be open over holiday periods. She says many will struggle to put on the required levels of staff to cope with demand, because the increased wages bill will put pressure on profits.

“For the smaller guys, it means they have four public holidays in a row. This doesn’t happen at any other time across the year. They’re paying up to double-time for these, sometimes double-time-and-a-quarter, and they don’t have the option of closing, because customers want them to be able to stay open over this time,” she says.

Carnell says something has to change.

“Let’s go back to the sensible days, where Good Friday and Easter Monday were public holidays,” she says.

“Generally, state governments have now gone to four public holidays, not even having a scenario where Easter Saturday was a normal trading day.”

This year, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria will observe all four days of the long weekend as public holidays.

However, this will be the first Easter period where smaller employers in the pharmacy, retail, hospitality and fast food spaces will be able to pay workers the lower penalty rate loadings, which came in on July 1 last year after a decision from the Fair Work Commission.

Under the new rules, full and part-time workers covered by the Hospitality, Retail, Fast Food, Pharmacy and Restaurant Awards must be paid a 225% loading, down from the 250% they were paid last Easter.

Casual workers in these awards are paid a 250% loading rate on public holidays.

Carnell believes even with these changes, the Easter period still puts pressure on small businesses. The ombudsman’s office is asking customers to be patient with smaller operators across the long weekend.

“Bear with them, including if your local cafe is charging a surcharge,” she says.

Several hospitality businesses have previously told SmartCompany that they have successfully implemented surcharges on public holidays by explaining clearly to their customers why this is necessary.

“I try and maintain a dialogue with my customers to talk about what the issues are that they have and to try and make sure there’s an understanding about what my issues are in the business. It’s about making sure I’m running as sustainably as possible,” owner of Wangaratta business Cafe Derailleur, Eric Bittner, has previously told SmartCompany.

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