Public holiday backflip sparks outrage

Chair of Commerce Ballarat David Wright
Chair of Commerce Ballarat David Wright

The chair of Commerce Ballarat David Wright has accused the state government of trying to play “Santa Claus” at the cost of local businesses. 

His words come in the wake of the government announcing it has reversed its decision not to declare Christmas Day a public holiday after conceding it made the wrong call.

“Commerce Ballarat is certainly disappointed with the backflip the state government has made initially not declaring then declaring Christmas Day a public holiday,” Mr Wright said.

“Three days of public holidays in a row seems excessive and there will be flow-on effects on small businesses that will be operating during those days.”

Mr Wright anticipated small businesses would be out of pocket from the extra public holiday, having already planned rosters, expenditure and operations over the Christmas period.

“While we certainly support penalty rates on Christmas Day and expect workers to be compensated for it, we don’t agree with the state government back-flipping five weeks out from Christmas,” he said. 

“It seems extremely unfair by the state government to decide to play Santa Claus and give out another public holiday at the cost of local businesses.”  

Mr Wright said he also feared the decision would compel hospitality businesses to stay closed on Christmas Day.

“From a hospitality point of view, it is giving traders an incentive not to open,” he said. 

“I would also expect businesses to put on less people because they won’t be able to afford paying all stuff public holiday rates … which gives less people a chance to earn an income.”

December 25 falls on a Sunday this year so the Government had originally declared the public holiday would fall on the Tuesday, following Boxing Day.

It meant those working on the Sunday would not have received extra penalty rates.

One Ballarat restaurant owner, who did not wish to be identified, told The Courier he could not afford to pay staff penalty rates on Christmas day.

Instead, he and his wife would be serving Christmas lunch to customers at the restaurant on their own.

“We can’t afford to pay staff,” he said. “If we did we would make no money at all. 

“It is getting ridiculous the amount of public holidays the state government is giving out. 

It is not good for small businesses, particularly in regional areas where public holidays are generally quiet trading days.”

But Small Business Minister Philip Dalidakis said on Friday he made the wrong call and both days have been named public holidays.

"I think it's important that when you make a mistake you put your hand up, acknowledge it and get on with life," he said.

The government maintained cancelling the public holiday on December 27 would put Victoria out of line with the rest of the country.