Push for workers to get six weeks annual leave blasted

A workplace expert has sparked fresh debate over whether Australia should increase its annual leave entitlements.

Australian workers walking in the city. Work and annual leave concept.
There are renewed calls for Australia to increase its annual leave from four weeks to six. (Source: AAP)

A call to increase annual leave entitlements for Aussie workers has been blasted by the nations peak employers’ organisation.

HR and workplace expert Jonathon Woolfrey sparked debate last week when he argued it was “time to rip this bandaid off” and increase annual leave from four to six weeks.

Speaking to 2GB’s Chris O’Keefe, Woolfrey said Australia was now lagging behind other countries.

“With two people working in most families, it’s time to actually acknowledge it’s very difficult to organise all the things you need to do … and you need a different way of being able to manage and deal with that in a modern workplace,” Woolfrey said.

“It’s time for six weeks. We need to move towards that.”

‘No sensible justification’

Ai Group, the nation’s peak industry association, has criticised the proposal, saying it “couldn’t seriously be entertained”.

“There is no reasonable case for reconsidering the amount of annual leave prescribed by the safety net of leave entitlements applicable in Australia,” Brent Ferguson, the group’s head of national workplace relations policy, told Yahoo Finance.

Ferguson argued that permanent employees already received annual leave that “exceeds that applicable in many countries”, in addition to paid public holiday leave and other forms of paid leave, including personal leave and compassionate leave.

Are you a business owner who would adopt six weeks annual leave? Contact reporter at tamika.seeto@yahooinc.com

Some industries also provide additional annual leave for staff required to regularly work on Sundays and public holidays, while others pay a premium to compensate employees working overtime or during ‘unsociable’ hours.

“Not only is there no sensible justification for increasing leave entitlements, implementing such a change would cause obvious difficulties for employers and the broader community,” Ferguson said.

“This would not only include the cost of paying for the extra leave but also the significant disruption and adverse impacts on productivity that would flow from further staff absences.”

Rested staff could boost productivity

Stephen Roebuck, who leads advice and consultancy services for Employsure, said there were pros and cons both sides needed to consider.

“The argument in favour of additional leave leans on a belief that more leave means rested staff and more productivity,” Roebuck said.

“For example, by offering your staff more time off you can ensure that your employees are fully engaged when at work, while reducing the rates of absenteeism due to burnout and illness.”

Jonathon Woolfrey and Stephen Roebuck
Jonathon Woolfrey (left) is arguing annual leave should be increased, while Stephen Roebuck (right) said there were pros and cons to weigh up. (Source: Australian HR Institute/Supplied)

It may also make paid full-time employment more attractive for part-time staff, and give employees the flexibility they need to fulfil their family and career responsibilities.

But it could come at a cost to businesses, Roebuck warned, many of whom were already struggling with rising costs.

“Many businesses are already working with employees to encourage them to use their existing leave balance, rather than letting it accumulate indefinitely until they leave the company,” Roebuck said.

“While there are provisions in legislation that help employers reduce their employees’ leave debt, mandating more leave will only make an existing problem worse … [Small businesses] often run on tighter budgets, making them more vulnerable to even slight increases in costs.”

How does Australia’s annual leave compare?

At four weeks of paid annual leave, Australia is currently in line with countries including New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Our leave entitlements are also more favourable compared to the United States, where workers have no statutory entitlement to paid annual leave at all. In Canada, workers typically receive two weeks of paid leave.

But we are behind some European countries, including France, Sweden and Austria, where employees are given five weeks of annual leave. In Scotland, almost all workers are entitled to 28 days (5.6 weeks) of paid annual leave.

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