Advertising agencies and working on Australia Day

Ashley Regan
By Ashley Regan | 24 January 2023
Stewart Munro via Unsplash

Australians hold many different views on what January 26 means - Australia Day for some, Survival Day or Invasion Day for others.

Many agencies are gravitating to the idea that all public holidays may not be culturally relevant to everyone and have introduced a form of celebration leave policy.

This allows staff to choose to work on public holidays in exchange for another day off that may be more meaningful to them.

This could include swapping January 26 to celebrate Mabo Day on June 3 or taking leave during NAIDOC Week July 2-9.

Jake Thomson, Wiradjuri man and head of Aboriginal health television at Tonic Media Network: “It’s great that businesses are putting these initiatives in place, but it's more important to learn the history of this continent's First people and what January 26 actually means.

“January 26 represents the arrival of Arthur Phillip which was the beginning of barbaric invasion and colonisation.

“The effects of this are still felt by my family and many other Aboriginal families. Instead January 26 – is known and called ‘Survival Day’ or ‘Invasion Day’ by Aboriginal People.

"Many people do not know that the first ever ‘Australia Day’ was on July 30, 1915. This was to raise used to funds for the World War I effort. In 1938 Aboriginal People used Jan 26 as a day of mourning. It was not until 1946 that Jan 26, was officially recognised by The Commonwealth and State Governments.

"I encourage all Australians to learn the history of Aboriginal people, which is Australia’s history. This will hopefully allow you to begin to understand why our people do not celebrate Jan 26 as 'Australia Day’.

"Instead we gather in solidarity and thank our old people for surviving the invasion and fighting for the opportunities we have now."

Some of the group's offering flexibility this year:

  • Omnicom Media Group.
  • Havas Group.
  • GroupM.
  • Paramount.
  • Deliotte.
  • KPMG.
  • Clemenger Group.
  • oOh!Media
  • dentsu.
  • GrowthOps (Khemistry,GO Digital, AJF Partnership, Penso).
  • Yahoo.
  • Innocean Operations.
  • MIQ.
  • DDB Group.
  • Tonic Media Network.
  • Ogilvy.
  • Jaywing.
  • Equality Media + Marketing.
  • Thinkerbell.
  • Hatched.
  • Half Dome.
  • Alchemy One.
  • The Pistol.
  • Alpha Digital.
  • IPG Mediabrands Australia.
  • CX Lavender.
  • TBWA Worldwide.
  • Hotwire Australia.
  • A1 Connect.
  • Common Ventures.

Raesh Chail, who leads Hatched's belongings and connection committee, said: "Several of the team have opted to work on January 26, and this is the most number of people we have seen apply for Celebration Leave on a single day since its inception."

Paul Scarf, group strategy director at Alchemy One, said: "This year we currently have approximately 65% of the team selecting an alternative day, which continues to grow each year. It's a small step we are making to respect and recognise the traditional custodians of the land we rest on."

Jules Brahe, business director at The Pistol, said: "Nearly 50% of our 50-strong team have opted to work on the day and take an alternative day off that better resonates with them personally."

Kat Foudy, account executive at The Pistol, shares why she chose to work on January 26 saying: "I really value the opportunity provided by The Pistol to take an alternative day off to January 26 as it affords me the ability to stand in solidarity with my First Nations brothers and sisters."

Some companies are also encouraging staff to get involved in the ingenious community through extra activities on January 26 such as "pay the rent" and attending Indigenous-run events.

Drew Tweddle, senior account director and business development manager at Common Ventures, said: "Whether working or not, we're also encouraging our staff to reflect on the connotations of the day and 'pay the rent' by donating to causes that empower Indigenous folks and/or purchasing from Indigenous-owned businesses."

Margie Reid, CEO of Thinkerbell, said: "We can't enforce our values onto others hence we give people the choice of when they want to celebrate Australia Day, they can do so on the 26th if they wish, but the office is open for those who choose a different day to celebrate.

"We are also offering the opportunity to attend a Survival Day talk from our friends at Evolve Communities with Aunty Munya, which will discuss what January 26 means, why it's so problematic and what we can do to continue to be allies in this space."

The initiative is not limited to January 26, but other holidays that the Australian calendar doesn't count for such as Diwali, the Lunar New Year, Thanksgiving Holiday, Eid, Orthodox Greek Easter holiday, Ramadan and NAIDOC Week.

"What we’ve found is that our people and teams are learning about each other’s cultures through their sharing," Scott Laird GroupM chief people officer, said.

"It’s a real conversation starter and awareness tool that’s helping drive better cultural understanding and appreciation across our diverse workforce."

Although, celebration leave policies can look different in different businesses for example:

Liv Pultar, director at Innocean Operations said: "We believe recognising and embracing diversity in the workplace helps us all feel valued. If a particular public holiday has no significance or relevance to an employee, they can apply for a 'floating leave' day."

Whereas at MIQ APAC, CEO Jason Scott said: "MiQ has a had a long standing policy to give people an additional two days off a year to use to celebrate cultural and religious holidays that are important to them."

Mediabrands Australia Alexia Bryant chief talent officer said: “Given our Leave+ policy our teams don’t have to make the choice as to whether or not they celebrate Australia Day, or have to swap this out for another holiday, as they have unlimited leave available to celebrate all days of significance that are important to them.”

Lani Tweddle, community, leadership operations partner at Yahoo APAC: "In Australia, Yahoo has two floating holidays - Australia Day on January 26 and, in Victoria, Melbourne Cup Day. If you don’t support these holidays, for whatever reason, you can swap it for a day of your choice."

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