‘I’ve never celebrated’: Why some people are working on Australia Day

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In a message posted to LinkedIn, Australia’s largest telecommunications company Telstra said employees had the choice to work on January 26 and take an alternative day off “if it feels right for them”.

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“For some, Australia Day is a celebration of everything our nation has to be proud of,” the post read. “For others, it’s a painful reminder of discrimination and exclusion. We know people will have different views on this and that’s okay.”

In a separate post, Telstra chief executive Vicki Brady said she would be taking the day off, but that the choice on how people spend Australia day was a personal one.

“I’ll be choosing to work and will take a different day of leave with my family because that feels right for me,” she wrote. “For many First Nations peoples…it marks a turning point that saw lives lost, culture devalued, and connections between people and places destroyed. Progress on reconciliation needs respectful and inclusive conversations.”

A spokesperson for the company said the flexibility to take the Australia Day public holiday or take leave on another day was built into Telstra’s contract with its employees.

“This flexibility is built into the enterprise agreements, which our employees voted on last year,” they said.

Online real estate company REA Group has also changed its policy for the first time this year to provide flexibility for employees.

“How we think about our national day is deeply personal for us all as Australians, and we are encouraging our team to do what they feel is right for them,” chief executive Owen Wilson said. “Our team has responded very positively to this choice, and we will have a number of team members working on Thursday and taking an alternate day of leave.”

An RMP poll showed that 54 per cent of people supported employers giving people the option to choose whether to work on Australia Day. However, 29 per cent of people were undecided and 18 per cent were opposed.

Not all businesses have made the change.

While NAB chief executive Ross McEwan was also working on Australia Day, he will not be substituting the public holiday for another day’s leave.

A spokesperson said that NAB wasn’t in a position to offer alternative leave arrangements because of a need to “avoid disruption to rosters amid higher customer demand from the significant threat of scams and changes to interest rates.”

But the company said a change was not off the table.

“As we have said in the past, we will continue to consider alternative arrangements in future years,” the spokesperson said.

Small business owner Joanna Wilson kept her inner-city Melbourne café, John Gorilla in Brunswick, open for limited trading hours and donated $800 in profits to Indigenous organisation, Pay The Rent.

A sign at Brunswick cafe John Gorilla where profits were donated on Australia Day.

“The cafe is operating on stolen land and the least we could do is donate some money,” said Wilson.

“Margins are small in hospitality and today we donated 50 per cent of what we made.”

Wilson said that while larger businesses, like Telstra, giving employees the option to opt out is a good step, it isn’t enough.

“It’s a start, but they have lots of money, a telco has much huger profit than I have,” she said.

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