How Much Is Public Holiday Pay In Australia

by CiCi
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Public holidays in Australia hold significant cultural and economic importance. For employees, they represent a time for rest, celebration, and, importantly, the opportunity to receive additional pay. This article delves into the intricacies of public holiday pay in Australia, exploring the legal framework, variations across states and territories, sector-specific practices, and the impact on businesses and employees.

Legal Framework Governing Public Holiday Pay

In Australia, public holiday entitlements are primarily governed by the Fair Work Act 2009, modern awards, enterprise agreements, and employment contracts. The Fair Work Act sets out the national employment standards (NES), which include provisions for public holidays. According to the NES, employees are entitled to be absent from work on a public holiday and to be paid at their base rate of pay for their ordinary hours of work.


National Employment Standards (NES)

Under the NES, full-time and part-time employees who normally work on a day that falls on a public holiday are entitled to a paid day off. Casual employees, on the other hand, are not automatically entitled to paid time off on a public holiday. However, if they work on a public holiday, they may be entitled to a higher rate of pay, commonly referred to as penalty rates.


Penalty rates are an integral part of public holiday pay, designed to compensate employees for working on days that are generally reserved for rest and celebration. These rates vary depending on the industry and the specific modern award or enterprise agreement that applies to the employee.

Public Holidays Across Australia

Australia observes both national and state-specific public holidays. National public holidays include New Year’s Day, Australia Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday, Anzac Day, Christmas Day, and Boxing Day. Each state and territory also has its own additional public holidays, such as Labour Day, Queen’s Birthday, and various regional holidays.

State and Territory Variations

The entitlement to public holiday pay and the specific penalty rates can vary significantly between states and territories. For instance:

New South Wales (NSW): In NSW, employees are entitled to public holiday pay for days such as the Queen’s Birthday and Labour Day, in addition to the national public holidays. Employees who work on these days are entitled to penalty rates as specified in their relevant modern award or enterprise agreement.

Victoria: Victoria observes Melbourne Cup Day as a public holiday, which is unique to the state. Victorian employees working on this day are entitled to public holiday penalty rates.

Queensland: Queensland has additional public holidays such as the Ekka (Royal Queensland Show) holiday. Employees working on this day are entitled to higher pay rates as stipulated by the applicable industrial instrument.

Public Holiday Pay Rates

Public holiday pay rates, often referred to as penalty rates, are designed to compensate employees for working on days that are considered significant for rest and cultural celebration. These rates can vary, but a common standard is a 150% to 250% increase on the base rate of pay.

Penalty Rates by Industry

Different industries have different penalty rates based on the modern awards that govern them. Here are some examples:

Hospitality Industry: Employees in the hospitality industry, such as those covered by the Hospitality Industry (General) Award, typically receive 225% of their base rate for working on a public holiday.

Retail Industry: Retail employees, governed by the Retail Award, usually receive between 150% and 250% of their base rate for public holiday work, depending on the specific terms of their award or agreement.

Health Services: Healthcare workers often have higher penalty rates due to the essential nature of their services. For example, nurses may receive up to 250% of their base rate for working on a public holiday, as outlined in the Nurses Award.

Enterprise Agreements and Public Holiday Pay

Enterprise agreements can also dictate public holiday pay rates. These agreements are negotiated between employers and employees (often represented by unions) and can provide more generous terms than the NES or modern awards.

For instance, some enterprise agreements may include additional leave days, higher penalty rates, or specific provisions for the substitution of public holidays. Employees should consult their enterprise agreement to understand their specific entitlements.

Impact on Businesses

While public holiday pay ensures fair compensation for employees, it can represent a significant cost for businesses, particularly those that operate continuously, such as in the hospitality, healthcare, and retail sectors.

Managing Costs

Businesses often need to manage the financial impact of public holiday pay through careful scheduling and budgeting. Strategies may include:

Rostering: Efficient rostering can help minimize the number of employees working on public holidays, thus reducing the overall penalty rates cost.

Operational Adjustments: Some businesses may choose to close or reduce operations on public holidays to avoid the higher wage costs. This is common in industries where the demand on public holidays does not justify the increased labor costs.

Employee Perspectives

From the employee’s perspective, public holiday pay is a critical entitlement that recognizes the personal and social importance of these days. For many employees, working on public holidays is a necessary part of their job, and the additional pay serves as a significant financial benefit.

Work-Life Balance

The provision of public holiday pay also contributes to work-life balance by allowing employees to take time off without financial loss. This is particularly important in a country like Australia, where public holidays are often used to spend time with family, participate in cultural events, and engage in recreational activities.

Calculation of Public Holiday Pay

The calculation of public holiday pay involves several factors, including the employee’s base rate of pay, the applicable penalty rate, and the number of hours worked on the public holiday.

Base Rate of Pay

The base rate of pay is the standard hourly rate an employee receives for ordinary hours of work. This rate does not include additional amounts such as overtime pay, bonuses, or allowances.

Penalty Rate

The penalty rate is the multiplier applied to the base rate to calculate the pay for work performed on a public holiday. For example, if an employee’s base rate is $25 per hour and the penalty rate is 250%, the employee would receive $62.50 per hour for work on a public holiday.

Hours Worked

The total public holiday pay is calculated by multiplying the penalty rate-adjusted hourly wage by the number of hours worked on the public holiday.

Examples of Public Holiday Pay Calculations

Consider an employee in the retail industry with a base rate of $20 per hour. If they work 8 hours on a public holiday and the applicable penalty rate is 200%, their public holiday pay would be calculated as follows:

  • Base Rate: $20 per hour
  • Penalty Rate: 200%
  • Hourly Rate on Public Holiday: $20 x 2 = $40
  • Total Pay for 8 Hours: $40 x 8 = $320

Substitution of Public Holidays

In some cases, employees and employers can agree to substitute a public holiday for another day. This is particularly useful in industries where continuous operation is required, and public holidays are not practical for all employees.

Agreement to Substitute

Substitution agreements must be made in writing and should clearly state the substituted day. These agreements can be beneficial for both employers and employees, allowing for operational flexibility and personal preference accommodation.

Disputes and Resolution

Disputes regarding public holiday pay can arise, particularly around the calculation of entitlements and the application of penalty rates. The Fair Work Commission (FWC) and other relevant bodies provide mechanisms for resolving such disputes.

Fair Work Commission

Employees and employers can approach the FWC for assistance in resolving disputes related to public holiday entitlements. The FWC offers mediation and arbitration services to help parties reach a fair resolution.


Public holiday pay in Australia is a well-regulated aspect of employment law, ensuring that employees are fairly compensated for their work on significant cultural and social days. While the specific entitlements and rates can vary across industries, states, and territories, the overarching principles of fairness and compensation remain consistent.

For employees, public holiday pay provides financial benefits and contributes to work-life balance, while for employers, it represents a cost that requires careful management. Understanding the legal framework, calculation methods, and the impact of public holiday pay is crucial for both employees and employers to navigate this aspect of the employment landscape effectively.

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