COMMENT | Why we need more public holidays on the calendar

MAKING THE MOST OF IT: Many people used the long weekend to enjoy local events like the Forest Reefs camp oven cook-off. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN
MAKING THE MOST OF IT: Many people used the long weekend to enjoy local events like the Forest Reefs camp oven cook-off. Photo: CARLA FREEDMAN

Make no mistake, on 364 of the 365 days of the standard calendar year, my heart beats pure republican red.

But on one day each year – Monday in most states and territories and a few months later in Queensland and Western Australia - the heart of every true blue Australian beats a royal blue, as we ditch work to commemorate the official birthday of her majesty, the Queen of England.

Long live the Queen! But, more importantly, long live the Queen’s birthday public holiday.

Public holidays are declared by individual states and territories and enshrined in industrial laws as paid rest days for the majority of workers. When you count them all up, NSW residents enjoy 11 public holidays a year, and Victorians – in their inordinate wisdom – a grand total of 13 (adding in Melbourne Cup Day and the footy finals).

On top of four weeks annual leave, this means most Australian full-time employees enjoy just shy of six weeks paid leave a year. But why stop there?

There is nothing magical about the current allotted amount of annual leave and public holidays Australians enjoy. Increases in annual leave entitlements were hard won by the union movement.

In 1935, the printers' union was successful in securing one week annual leave, which soon spread to other industries. In 1945, the Annual Holidays Act granted Aussie workers two weeks paid leave.

By the mid 1960s, three weeks became standard. And in 1974, four weeks became the norm – where it has been stuck for nearly half a century.

Industrial laws stipulate workers be paid “overtime” pay – albeit somewhat reduced lately - to entice them to work on weekends and public holidays.

In traditional economic thought, all individuals are preoccupied with one central question: of the 24 hours of the day, how should we best allocate our time between the two competing pursuits of work and leisure? Economists call this the “income-leisure trade off”.

Individuals make decisions with the intent of maximising their utility, or happiness. Both work and leisure offer the prospect of increased satisfaction.

Humans inherently enjoy leisure. They also enjoy work as it gives us the income needed to purchase many of the things which we either need or desire.

Most individuals will choose to spend a good portion of their day working to secure income to buy housing, food, transport, holidays, hobbies and so forth.

The trick is having enough time left in the day to actually enjoy those holidays and hobbies.

The best way to ensure benefits spread to a more casualised workforce is to simply designate a few more public holidays.

Many countries in the world celebrate far more public holidays than we do – albeit they do not enjoy the same rights to paid annual leave as we do.

Cambodians celebrate 28 public holidays a year, Sri Lanka 25 and Colombia 18.

So, I hereby suggest two more. Henceforth, the second Monday in July should be declared national “Smartphone Day” – the day on which workers are compensated to some tiny degree for the additional hours of lost sleep and relaxation the darned devices are costing us each year.

And henceforth, the first Monday in August should be designated national “Netflix and chill” day. Because, baby, it’s cold outside.


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