Christmas Day should be declared a public holiday in every state and territory to protect workers who usually work on a Saturday from being forced by their employer to work and miss out on a family Christmas.

New South Wales, Queensland, Tasmania and Western Australia have already declared Christmas Day to be a public holiday this year, protecting workers in these states.

But Victoria, South Australia, the ACT and the Northern Territory have not, instead declaring a day in the following week as a substitute public holiday.

This means that thousands of Victorian, SA, ACT and NT workers in hospitals, shops, cafes, public transport, security and other industries which operate around the clock are not entitled to refuse to work for family or religious reasons on the day.

It also means these workers will not receive public holiday penalty rates, but will only be paid what they normally would earn for working on a Saturday.

ACTU President Ged Kearney said the present patchwork of arrangements across Australia was confusing and it would be in the interests of both employers and employees if there was a uniform approach.

“The ACTU is calling on all state and territory governments to do the right thing and proclaim Christmas Day as a public holiday for those who had to work on it, with an additional public holiday the following Monday for those who normally work Mondays.

“It is totally unfair that workers in four states and territories can be forced to come into work on Christmas Day.

“We welcome the fact governments have taken one step towards protecting Christmas by declaring an additional public holiday on the following Monday, but that is no help for workers who are rostered on the Saturday.

“No-one wants to see a nurse, waiter, bus driver, kitchen assistant or convenience store worker being unable to refuse to work Xmas Day — and get no public holiday pay to boot.

Ms Kearney noted that, if 25 December was prescribed as a holiday, awards and agreements clauses would determine how much extra public holiday penalty rates would be paid on the day.

She said: “As a matter of principle, we think that all employees working on Christmas Day should get some form of penalty rate, to compensate them from time away from their family and friends, and time spent working on a day that everyone else enjoys off.”.

“But the most important thing is that by declaring 25 December to be a public holiday, under the National Employment Standards workers would be able to refuse to work on Christmas and spend time with their family instead.”