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Your right to refuse work on public holidays

With a few public holidays coming up over the Christmas and New Year period, now’s a good time to brush up on your rights.

Public holidays are government-set days of the year where employees can be absent from work for the day, or part of the day.  

Public holidays differ between different states and territories, so we’ve put together this handy table for you. 

If you’d like to plan ahead for next year, here’s the full list of public holidays in 2024. 

Your employer can ask you to work on a public holiday, but they shouldn’t tell you that you MUST be at work. 

Under the National Employment Standards (NES), employees have the right to refuse work on a public holiday. This refusal must be reasonable.  

To help decide if your refusal is reasonable, consider the following: 

  • The nature of your workplace and the work you do 
  • Your personal circumstances, such as caring responsibilities 
  • If you could reasonably expect your employer to request work on the public holiday, for example do you work in an industry that regularly works on public holidays 
  • If you are entitled to receive penalty rates or other payments that reflect an expectation to work on public holidays 
  • Your type of employment (full-time, part-time, causal or shift work) 
  • The amount of notice your employer gives you when making the request 
  • The amount of notice you give your employer in refusing the request 
  • Anything else that is relevant 

Public holiday pay 

If a public holiday falls on a day that you would usually work, you’re employed on a full-time or part-time basis, AND you’re not working that day – you should still be paid your ordinary base rate for that day. (Note: this may not apply to part-day public holidays) 

So, for example, that you’re a full or part-time worker and usually work on Mondays, but your boss has decided to close for Christmas day. You should still be paid your base rate for that day! 

If you ARE working on a public holiday, make sure you’re paid the correct penalty rates and/or loadings that apply to your role – check your Award or Agreement to be sure.  

If you have questions or need advice about your rights around public holidays, call or email your local UWU office for assistance! 

Let's Close the Loopholes and Make Wage theft a Crime

You’ve probably heard the story of seven UWU members who stood up in their union and fought for more than $900,000 in unpaid wages, and held their bosses to account.


The workers at Canberra Foot & Thai experienced Australia’s worst case of wage theft, but they have been let down by a broken system. More than five years after launching their court case, these workers are still waiting for justice from the courts!

And their story, while outrageous, isn’t unusual. Wage theft by employers is estimated to cost workers $850 million a year!

The Closing Loopholes Bill, now before Parliament, aims to confront issues such as wage theft, job security, and workplace conditions head-on.

Right now, union members are putting pressure on cross-bench Senators to ask them to pass the bill. Can you help by sending a Christmas card to tell them how important it is to pass this Bill? 

The Bill would:

  • Criminalise wage theft and lift penalties for bosses deliberately underpaying workers.
  • Criminalise industrial manslaughter.
  • Crack down on labour hire firms that undercut pay and conditions.
  • Properly define casual work so casuals aren’t being exploited.
  • Make sure gig workers aren’t being ripped off.

The Senate currently supports certain parts of the Closing Loopholes Bill – a positive step. 

However, Peter Dutton and the Liberals threaten meaningful change by opposing the bill and siding with big business over working people. That’s why it’s so important to get cross-bench support.

It’s time to send a resounding message: Workers need this bill passed now. Delay tactics only serve big business, not the hardworking individuals striving to make ends meet in a cost-of-living crisis. 

Send the cross-bench a Christmas card now.

Canberra School Cleaners fight hard and win BIG

More money in the pockets of Canberra’s school cleaners, known as Cleaning Service Officers (CSOs), is aiding in the constant battle against cost of living increases through the Fair Go Campaign.

The wage increases and other benefits achieved through the enterprise bargain with the ACT Government are impressive! Over the life of the agreement, entry level cleaners’ pay will increase by $174.40 a week, or $16,708 a year. Experienced cleaners’ (with >4 years experience) weekly pay will increase by $187.30, or $17,686 a year. 

CSOs were able to join forces with the fellow United Workers Union members employed by the government as Building Services Officers (BSOs) and General Services Officers (GSOs) government employees who are members of the CFMEU, to campaign for wage increases for lower paid workers. Something which could never have happened when the CSO were employed by contract cleaning companies.

This is something we could never have achieved when we were working for the contract cleaning companies,” said Karma Dema one of our union’s national council members who is employed as a CSO.

At first we had to bring everyone together and let everyone in the Labor party know about our issues and demands.  So we held a rally outside the ALP Conference and then spoke to a conference resolution.

Then we decided to tell everyone in Canberra about the problem. We held a huge march and rally outside the ACT Legislative Assembly. One of my CSO colleagues and UWU Delegates Moe Joe Johnson spoke in front of the crowd.

Direct employment has job security and dignity – even for those of us who are working on visas as we now have the same working conditions as permanent residents and Australian citizens. Staying united in the Fair Go Campaign has given us respect and the wages we deserve”.

The BSOs have also seen big boost to their wages with more adjustments likely through the reclassification work that is underway. They too will be finally paid the wages they deserve.

Members rally at the ALP conference

Congratulations to all of the members who took action and spoke out to achieve this impressive win!

This campaign goes to show why it’s so important to cut out contractors wherever possible. In Victoria, school cleaners are taking action to pressure the state government to make good on their promise of direct employment.

If you’re in Melbourne, come along to Education House on Wednesday 6 December to stand with school cleaning members – RSVP here!

UWU members front and centre at WA ALP conference

In November, UWU members in Western Australia attended the state Labor Conference, making a significant impact.

UWU members Ants, Mirna, and Charles set the tone by opening the conference, with several UWU members taking centre stage throughout.
  • Michelle and Kaaro highlighted the need for a 25% pay rise and the integration of early education

    into the public education system.

  • Nyibol and Emma shared about the massive wins achieved in aged care.

  • Jane and Kishore advocated for worker-led NDIS reforms.

  • Ivo championed the cause of ending casualisation in our public hospital system.

  • Joan and Rob shed light on the violence facing education assistants and the government’s commitment to ending it in schools.

  • Amira raised awareness of far-right radicalisation and the party’s stand against it.

  • Hiba passionately advocated for protections for workers on temporary visas.

It was inspiring to witness UWU members taking political action and directly influencing policy to put workers first.

Revealed: Our Plan to Fight Working Poverty

In a country as wealthy as ours, there’s simply no reason why anyone working full-time should ever be in poverty.

Australia’s minimum wage system is broken. Too many Australians on minimum and award wages just don’t get enough money to make ends meet. There’s a gaping chasm between these workers and those in the middle and it’s getting wider. Meanwhile, corporate profits are booming and CEOs are paying themselves mega-salaries and eye-watering bonuses as they try to hold down our wages. But by taking these three step we can start to turn this around by ensuring that the minimum wage is a living wage.

1. Rethink the purpose of the minimum wage. It’s not a safety net but something that creates a strong foundation so that every worker can earn a living wage and properly support our kids.

2. Government action. The Federal Government must build a plan to rebuild the living standards of people on the minimum wage and award wages.

3. A bold target for our minimum wage to help eliminate working poverty. It should be no less than 60% of the wages of people on average incomes.

We also know that when we raise wages at the bottom, everyone benefits because it means union members everywhere can push for more. A rising tide lifts all boats.



Educators take action: "Pay Us What We're Worth!"

On Wednesday 29 November thousands of early childhood educators took national action to put the Federal Government on notice: Give us a reason to stay by Christmas, or next year educators will be forced to start closing doors.

Educators from across the country have been bargaining for a Multi Employer Agreement to try to fix the wages crisis in their sector.

Now everyone is asking if the Government intends to take their role as the key funder of early learning seriously.

So far the Government has not given any indication they recognise their role in funding an outcome of an Agreement to improve educators’ wages.

Without a Government commitment to fund wages, the workforce crisis in early learning will only worsen. If educators are forced to take further action and start closing doors, parents will struggle to go back to work in 2024 after the holiday break.

That’s why educators have a clear message: Pay us what we’re worth, or centres won’t stay open next year.

Read more here

WA Public Sector Workers Prepare to Bargain

With 2024 just around the corner, the big-ticket item on the new year agenda for WA health and education members will be bargaining for vital new agreements.


Things kicked off this month with a town hall meeting, where Premier Roger Cook addressed UWU members and members of the public sector alliance, and acknowledged the significant pressure workers are under given rising cost of living.

It was amazing for UWU member and School Cleaner Gina Scarborough to take centre stage, describing to town hall guests and media the struggle faced by workers in WA schools and hospitals, trying to get by on low wages.

Watch this space in the new year as UWU members take on an important fight for new agreements that include a much-needed cost of living wage rise of 12% over two years.

Exclusive Offer for UWU Members

As the temperature and electricity bills soars, so does our determination grow to break the stranglehold of corporate giants dictating our energy choices. It’s time to wield your electricity bill as a tool for change and build power for the people.


Your union, UWU co-owns CoPower, an electricity cooperative challenging the dominance of profit-hungry corporations. Over 4,000 households have already made the switch, standing united to reclaim control.

Why Now?

In a world where corporations wield disproportionate power, CoPower is an important way you can shift the balance.  As corporate profits soar workers and our environment face increasing challenges.

2023 is set to be the hottest year on record and as we are bracing ourselves for the El Nino summer ahead. Right now, world leaders are preparing to travel to The United Arab Emirates for the annual UN Climate Change negotiation.  This meeting is presided over by Sultan Al Jaber who is also the CEO of the Abu Dhabi National Oil company, a corporation that has some of the largest plans for expansion of gas and oil in the world. Last years UN climate change negotiation in Egypt saw a record 663 fossil fuel lobbyists participate! This is a stark reminder of the corporate influence putting our future at risk.

Take Action – Switch to CoPower!

CoPower is an important way you can start breaking free from corporate dominance. We’ve earned a top 5 rating on the Green Electricity guide by Greenpeace, and we will never increase our electricity rates for profit.

UWU members can access an exclusive $50 sign on credit when you switch your home’s electricity to CoPower. This offer is available to the first 100 members to switch.

Switching only takes a few minutes and is as easy as clicking here.

Once you have switched to CoPower claim your exclusive union member $50 sign-on credit by emailing [email protected] with the following details:

  1. The name of the electricity account holder
  2. Your address
  3. Email of the account holder
  4. Your union name

The $50 credit will then be applied to your bill.

By choosing CoPower, you’re not just changing electricity providers; you’re becoming part of a movement building a democratic cooperative that puts power back where it belongs – in the hands of the people.

Your Power, Your Say

Every CoPower customer member has an equal say in directing 100% of its electricity revenue. Your electricity bill becomes a tool for positive change – supporting fair wages for workers, community owned renewable energy, and programs to help you save energy and make your home more comfortable.

Ready to make a difference? Complete the online form now and let’s take the power back!