21 Jul 2009

Workers could take public holidays on religious dates

3:26 pm on 21 July 2009

Giving employees the choice of swapping existing public holidays for celebrations or holidays of other religions is among a range of proposals up for public discussion.

The Government is seeking feedback on its plans to revise the Holidays Act.

The proposals include the ability to cash up one week of annual leave and a look at the leave entitlements of casual employees.

Another is for employees to be able to take public holidays on days other than the 11 currently listed in the legislation.

Labour Minister Kate Wilkinson says it is an issue worth exploring, as New Zealand is becoming more multi-cultural and that it is appropriate to survey people's views on their holidays.

Bill Hodge, an associate professor of law at the University of Auckland, says the Holidays Act has not kept up with the times.

"We're past the time when people worked nine-to-five, Monday-through-Friday. You have the fire service, the police, the airlines, all operating almost 24-7 and the Holidays Act just has to come to grips with that," he said.

Former president of the Auckland Ethnic Council Ganges Singh says if people want to celebrate different holidays at the moment they either have to take annual leave or the day off without pay.

The Employers and Manufacturers Association says it would welcome such a move, as long as it is based upon mutual agreement between workers and their employers.

Dave Lowe from the association says most employers would be happy to negotiate the transfer of public holidays.

But the Council of Trade Unions says the proposal could be taken advantage of by employers.

CTU president Helen Kelly says up to about a year ago employees were able to transfer holidays, although that was not entrenched in law. She says employers abused the system then.

Ms Kelly said employers were transferring important public holidays such as Christmas Day and the two Easter holidays to "meaningless" days like the first days in June to avoid paying time-and-a-half."