Workers fight for Boxing Day off

DISGRUNTLED workers at Stockland Rockhampton are protesting about being forced to work on Boxing Day, arguing the decision will stop them celebrating the festive season with family.

Staff are upset that rather than spending time with loved ones, they will be forced to work at the region’s major shopping centre, where hundreds of people are employed.

And they won’t be getting paid penalty rates.

Extended hours on New Year’s Eve, when there will be a 9pm closing time, are also upsetting some.

Yesterday The Morning Bulletin spoke to a handful of workers, including one who has started a petition which has gained plenty of signatures.

Traditionally shops don’t open in Rockhampton on Boxing Day.

Those companies that don’t open on the Saturday could face penalties for breaching tenancy agreements.

A National Retailers Association spokesman yesterday said the situation had arisen because December 26 this year fell on a Saturday.

Monday is the official public holiday across Australia and the day when Boxing Day will be celebrated.

“This is simply a product of the calendar,” NRA executive director Gary Black said.

He said shopping centres had an obligation to do what was right for tenants.

“It’s not our experience that there’s a lot of resistance (to opening on Boxing Day) from retailers,” Mr Black said.

“I’m not surprised shopping centres have elected to open, it’s an extremely popular day for consumers.

“How it goes in Rockhampton we will have to wait and see.”

Member for Rockhampton Robert Schwarten yesterday said he would be happy to take any petition to the state’s Attorney General; however, he didn’t think much could be done as the Monday had been set down as the public holiday in an agreement reached between unions and industry.

Mr Schwarten said he could understand the case of both sides.

One worker said some staff had been threatened they would lose their jobs if they didn’t turn up.

“I’m so angry,” she said.

She said everyone thought they would have the three days off – Christmas Day, Saturday and Sunday.

The worker still plans to visit her sick mother on the Sunshine Coast at Christmas because if she doesn’t her mum “will be heartbroken”.

“I’m prepared to lose my job,” she said.

“Rockhampton is not Brisbane. This is a regional area where we value time with our families.”

Another worker had already booked flights to spend the festive season with family in Western Australia.

“We only found out a couple of weeks ago the centre will be open on Boxing Day,” a woman from a different store said.

Workers are also upset because New Year’s Eve falls on a Thursday and the centre will maintain its late-night shopping, closing at 9pm.

Yesterday, the situation drew a mixed reaction from a family of shoppers.

Bronwyn Dendle was shopping with her husband, two daughters and mother, Del Murphy.

Del said Christmas was a special time of the year and workers probably had a case to have a holiday on the Saturday.

Bronwyn said she would be spending time with family around Christmas.

A spokesman for Stockland Rockhampton yesterday said the centre was opening the set trading hours as set out by the NRA.

The NRA is currently also in a legal battle to allow Sunday trading in Rockhampton.

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