Not A Date To Celebrate: Substituting the Australia Day Public Holiday

Not A Date To Celebrate: Substituting the Australia Day Public Holiday

What can you do if your values or cultural beliefs

do not align with a Public Holiday?

The national conversation about when, and if we should celebrate Australia Day continues to rage. Jan 26, Invasion Day, Survival Day or Australia Day whatever you call it, can't be seen as anything other than a day of mourning for First Nation's Peoples.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has already ruled out changing the date so, what can you you do?! 

We know getting support to change gazetted public holidays requires mass support and will be an uphill battle but, in the meantime we can empower ourselves and have conversations within our workplaces to change the date and what this means ourselves.

We wanted to share with you some public holiday information that no-one is talking about! The possibility of negotiating swapping public holiday dates with your employer if you don’t want to mark January 26, but still keep the public holiday benefits you may be entitled to.

Essentially, whether you can swap a public holiday for another day depends on your type of employment, the modern award or agreement you are employed under, or if your contract is ‘award free’, the Fair Work Act.  Many, but not all, modern awards allow for substitution of public holidays if both the employer and employee agree to the arrangement. 

There are some technicalities to be aware of, and we encourage an open dialogue with your employer. 

For Employees

We encourage you to check your award (use the link below) and have a chat with the relevant people in your workplace to know your options around working on Jan 26 and taking an alternative day off that you both agree on.

What am I looking for in my award?

Click here for a full list of Modern Awards. Once you find your award or agreement, click on the sub-heading 'Public Holidays'. You are looking for a clause around 'Substitution'. 

For example, this is the clause in the General Retail Industry Award 2020 [MA000004]: 

For Employers 

This is an opportunity to lead by your values, support social change and give your employees a voice. Chat to your HR supports and gather the info you need.

Change It Ourselves

Change It Ourselves is a group that supports employees and employers to not take the public holiday on January 26 and instead, change the date ourselves through public action, without waiting for the government!

It's a great website to explore if you are an employee or employer that wants to support more inclusive public holidays. Check out their easy step by step framework so you too may be able to enact support for changing the date.

Change it ourselves table

They have even created these stunning free posters (created in collaboration with Waanyi and Kalkadoon woman Keisha Leon from LEON Design) to download to support organisations and businesses to close.


Solidarity and allyship

We are proud of the growing list of people and organisations that are changing the date themselves.

Just to name a few:

- In 2017, Triple J, decided to no longer hold the Hottest 100 on Australia Day, with the station acknowledging the "increasing debate" about January 26 and its meaning for Indigenous Australians.

- In Jan 2021 Cricket Australia (CA) in Jan 2021 said they will not be referring to January 26 as "Australia Day" as part of its Big Bash League (BBL) promotions, after consultation with its Indigenous advisory committee.

- In Dec 2022, Channel 10 announced that they will refuse to recognise January 26th as ‘Australia Day’ given the date's history.

- Local councils in Melbourne Inner North (Yarra, Darebin and Merri-bek) have taken a stand and ceased holding citizenship ceremonies on Australia Day. City of Greater Geelong, Shepparton, Whittlesea and Surf Coast Shire, indicated they were keen to reconsider their plans for 2024.

- In Jan 2022, as reported by SBS, many other major Australian companies including Telstra, KPMG, University of Wollongong, EY and Australian Ethical Super have told their employees that they don’t have to take a holiday on Australia Day.

Not business as usual

We understand that solidarity and allyship can look and feel different to everyone and substituting the Australia Day public holiday is but, one way to show your support but, is it enough? 

Read 'Working Australia Day: Is NOT Business As Usual' Blog by Clothing The Gaps for some examples of what some workplaces and employers are doing to still centre First Nations people when they choose not to observe the public holiday and go to work


Photo: Clothing The Gaps Survival Day Tee - wear your values especially on significant First Nations dates like Jan 26, spark a conversation and let everyone know that this is #NotADateToCelebrate. 

Further Reading: 

- Make sure you check out this page on the Fair Work website Substitute public holidays for more information.

- The Fair Work Commission is a great resource to find out more about your workplace entitlements, awards and agreements.

Disclaimer: This is not individual HR nor legal advice. We recommend that all individuals check your paperwork and communicate with your employer. Seek expert advice for your sector from the appropriate agencies.

1 comment

  • carolyn Martin OAM


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