Working On Christmas?

19/12/2018

Recently the outrage debate in the media, surprisingly pushed by the retail union, has been whether or not stores should be allowed to have people working on Christmas Day. Woolworths was told they were not allowed to roster staff on Christmas Day for packing shelves, and some want the same ban to apply for Boxing Day, saying everyone deserves to have the days off to celebrate. But what about those who don’t care?

This is more a personal opinion piece than actually having any particular conviction on the topic, but given the public’s confusion over why this is being touted as a “victory for workers” I thought it’d be worth commenting on. (Plus, given my slack schedule for posting here, I thought it would be a nice small one to jump back in – I am currently on a short holiday myself with an old friend). The idea of working on Christmas Day or Boxing Day really isn’t that contentious, in my view. If Woolworths was to force staff to work on those days, against their will, then yes, that would be an issue worth contending. But if people want to work those days, for whatever reason, or don’t mind if they do, why shouldn’t they be allowed to?

Reasons

The most common response online I’ve seen is that, given the diverse nature of Australia’s population, not everyone celebrates Christmas, either at all or with only partial interest. Most obvious side to this is religious reasons, be it just opposed to the idea or of belonging to a faith other than Christian. I know people who have stated they aren’t going to be told by a calendar when they are allowed to celebrate with family or give gifts, and just do so whenever time permits.

Another reason is money. A number of my friends from my old job, whether they celebrated or not (many did) preferred to work because of the increase in pay (the Christmas/New Year weeks were goldmines, and I’m sure the free leftover food compelled some to stick around). They often worked their shift around meeting with family and friends, being able to fit both in to their schedules with ease.

For any of those reasons, it would seem entirely acceptable to allow people to work over Christmas. I worked four consecutive Christmas’, this year being the first in my working life I haven’t done so. Admittedly, at my old job I worked on that day for the money and choice of leftover stuff – but it was also a great and carefree time with colleagues. Some memories of Christmas at Sizzler will be hard to forget – like that time, as a joke to ‘take longer’, I sent a single spoon through the dish machine. Or when I was the Sizzler Santa last year, taking the job from the usual martial arts proficient Egyptian Santa – sorry Mohamed! I walked into the dining room and (literally) everyone clapped.

As someone who celebrates Christmas (having grown up with a Christian family), I had no qualms working on the day. I worked for the money and friendships, went home, and did the usual itinerary with family and other friends. Work and celebration were not mutually exclusive, and the awesome part about it was the choice we had. Rather than banning work on Christmas, any store that wants to be open (or, in Woolworths’ case, have staff available) should offer the choice. Staff who wanted the day off at my work could request the day off; some years, more requested to work on the day. If you didn’t request the day off and got rostered on, you could ask to be taken off and management would gladly do so. Obviously not all stores and businesses would be that generous, but that’s the logical solution.

Whether you celebrate the holidays or not, the choice to work should be for the workers alone, not businesses or unions on either extreme. Unions instead should be fighting for that choice, not a blanket ban, and businesses should not be allowed to force staff to work but implement that choice.

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