The cost of public holidays

Joe Domantay at Grunge Café. Photo Julia Hende.
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Many businesses choose to shut on public holidays but for some businesses their best trade is on a public holiday, Julia Hende reports.

As Puffing Billy arrives in Belgrave on Melbourne Cup Day, passengers Gary and Betty Jones decide to explore the town and stumble across Grunge Café, a unique and inviting joint. They sit at a table at the back of the shop sipping their coffees and taking in the array of artistic decorations from including flowers and paintings as well as the delectable deserts such as cookies, muffins and cakes. Meanwhile, owner Joe Domantay furiously works behind the counter, trying to keep up with the needs throughout.

For many small businesses, opening on a public holiday would not be financially viable, but for some business owners in Belgrave like Joe Domantay, who also owns The Village Idiot Café, the benefits of opening on a public holiday outweigh the costs.

Penalty rates are a big factor for most businesses on public holidays with many businesses closing or having a ‘skeleton staff’ in an attempt to minimise the staff costs. These costs can increase anywhere between 150 and 275 percent per employee depending on the occupation and if the employee is contracted as full time, part time or casual, according to Fairwork Australia, the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association (SDA) and the Australian Road Transport Industrial Organisation.

Despite this, Domantay has three to four employees working on a public holiday as opposed to two who usually work on normal days. Staffing on the day isn’t his only financial cost. “Leading up to it, there’s a lot of preparation work. Although you’ve got the one particular day, you’ve also got the days leading up to it and the extra hours prepping… for instance you probably need double, sometimes triple the amount of supplies so there’s a lot of planning that goes into ordering, what you need to have pre-prepped and everything because the last thing you want to be doing on the day is prepping.”

Vintage clothing stall holder at Belgrave Emporium, Jodi Gidderson says: “I think being in a tourist area, the public holidays are probably more beneficial for us because we have more trade. People come out and about on those days.”

Attractions such as Puffing Billy, The Dandenong Ranges National Park, Trees Adventure and various unique shops like Belgrave Emporium draw many tourists to Belgrave on public holidays. Domantay says there’s a 30 to 40 percent increase in trade at his businesses on public holidays.

Gidderson says: “we generally have two [workers] in the store on any one day but on a public holiday we like to have at least three because it’s busier.”

“Things like penalty rates don’t really apply” at the emporium which operates “almost like a permanent marketplace, you could maybe even describe us as a co-op, the people who work in the store are stall holders and we’re not paid rates as part of our contract to be able to have our wares in the store… we make our money by the wares that we sell” she says.

Chris Henning is the owner of PlumbFX, a small plumbing business in Upwey which does not operate on public holidays. Despite this, he says it is financially viable to work on a public holiday because call outs would be charged at double the usual price.

For the businesses themselves, the impact of a public holiday may be purely financial. But for the owners and employees there may be other costs.

Childcare can be an issue for parents who work on public holidays. “Things like babysitting can be a little trickier but we always find a way so that’s probably the hardest part for me,” says Gidderson.

Henning who is on call, while his five employees are able to enjoy the day off, it impacts on his family and social life. He says: “Being owners of the company we have to be available even though our employees aren’t. It prevents the owners having so-called long weekends.”

Domantay disagrees that owning a business on a public holiday is negative for the owners. “It really depends what you make of it. If you decide to work it, that’s fine. If you don’t, then you can enjoy having the public holiday but because it’s a public holiday, it’s busy everywhere else so on a long weekend that’s the good thing about having your own business, you can take time off when it’s not so busy.”

“In an area like this, you’d be crazy not to open!” declared Belgrave tattooist, André Cleary. However, in a non-tourist area, the situation is a little different. Many small businesses in non- tourist areas are usually closed on public holidays, according to an economic research paper by the Australian Industry Group (AIG), which acts on behalf of employers. The survey found, 85 percent of Victorian commercial and industrial businesses were shut on the 2015 Grand Final public holiday, with only three per cent of businesses surveyed making a profit.

According to a PricewaterhouseCoopers report, the 2015 Grand Final public holiday alone cost the Victorian economy $852 million while the AIG says every public holiday costs the national economy between $3 and $4 billion.

Gidderson believes the financial viability of opening on a public holiday “would depend on the area”, however she isn’t sure whether it would be worth opening the emporium on a public holiday if it were based outside a tourist area.

Domantay agrees and says it’s “probably not [financially viable] but that’s depending again on where it is. You’d need to get an idea of if the locals and regulars would come”.

He says he would consider staying shut on public holidays if his businesses were based in a non-tourist area. “I’d probably just to take time out like everyone else …to be able to say ‘you know what I’m not working on a public holiday’ is one of the perks of having your own business, you don’t have to work if you don’t want to.”