Few of us want to spend time at work at those times culturally allocated to family, to watching the kids play, to chatting with friends or to relaxing with a partner. The situation is even more acute on days of marked significance such as Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.

Penalty rates, while not a proxy for a healthy social or family life, provide some compensation for working during these unsociable hours. Unfortunately this form of compensation is not always forthcoming.

Many Allied Health Professionals in the public sector worked on public holidays over the Christmas and New Year period; unhappily, many did not receive penalty rates for doing so. In fact, some were not paid at all for days deemed to be public holidays.

The Andrews state government did the right thing by workers in declaring 25 December to be a public holiday (in addition to 27 December, which was the gazetted Christmas Day public holiday). It seems however that the majority of hospitals took advice from Ebenezer Scrooge and adopted an interpretation of the public holiday clause in the enterprise agreement that disadvantaged workers.

For instance, those working 25 December (i.e. the real Christmas Day), received no pay for 27 December (despite it being a public holiday) unless they worked that day as well. And, for those who worked both days, many were only paid single time for 27 December.

This situation was replicated for 1 January and 2 January. That is, those who worked on 1 January but not on 2 January didn’t receive any pay for 2 January and those who worked both days were paid at single time for the 2nd despite the fact that both days were public holidays.

“This is an unprecedented attack on penalty rates in the healthcare sector,” said VAHPA Secretary, Craig McGregor.

“Members have given up time with their families over the festive season to provide emergency public health services and, justifiably, feel cheated by what has happened here.”

“When did it become acceptable to simply not pay workers for having time off on a public holiday or to pay workers single time when they work on a public holiday?”, asked a dismayed McGregor.

VAHPA has made its case strongly, however the Victorian Hospitals’ Industrial Association (VHIA) are of the view that the agreement allows employers to pay staff this way. VAHPA has indicated in no uncertain terms that this penny-pinching interpretation is flawed and unfair.

Not only is the approach mean-spirited but it will create difficulties with regards to finding staff willing to work on public holidays in the future.

“We have had managers complaining to us that they can’t get staff to volunteer to work pubic holidays as it is,” said McGregor.

“Now AHPs have lost all faith in the public holiday system and fear they will not get paid appropriately. They are asking us why their penalty rates are under attack,” concluded McGregor.

VAHPA is continuing the fight and has asked the Andrews’ government to step-in and re-establish a sensible approach that sees AHPs respected and paid appropriately.