Should employees work for free at busy times of year?
The Sector > Workforce > Leadership > Should employees work for free at busy times of year?

Should employees work for free at busy times of year?

by Freya Lucas

December 11, 2018

The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Sector.

Business publication Human Resources Director (HRD) has reported Australian airline Qantas as being accused of wage theft, after a linked email reportedly from Qantas asked their head office employees to volunteer extra hours of work over the Christmas and New Year period, a notoriously busy time of year for airline travel.


With many early childhood education and care (ECEC) services offering end of year celebrations, Christmas parties, and graduation ceremonies in November and December, with not all staff receiving payment or time in lieu, it seems timely to ask: is being asked to volunteer over Christmas and New Year a gesture of goodwill, or a ‘Grinch’ move?


ECEC commentators have speculated that one of the reasons for the low rates of pay and recognition in the sector is phrasing such as “I don’t do it for the money”, “it’s for the children”, or pertinantly at this time of year “but it’s Christmas!”


Would it be a reasonable expectation for operational staff in larger ECEC services and companies to volunteer their time to set up for the Christmas concert, prepare a parent’s morning tea, or conduct transition to school visits outside of their normal working hours and unpaid?


HRD quotes Rachel Yangoyan, Chief Operating Officer at Qantas, in the leaked email as asking the company’s head office staff to support teams at Sydney Airport over the 2018 peak Christmas travel period, saying “we’re trialling a new volunteer program for our Campus-based people who’d like to lend a hand to the frontline in December and January”.


HRD reports the aim of the program was “[spreading] a bit of Christmas cheer”, which Natalie Lang, Secretary of the Australian Services Union, has described as “a Grinch act of the highest order”.


Ms Lang described the “offer” of volunteering as “wage theft” – something which the Australian Council of Trade Unions has claimed is “so widespread it is now a business model”.


A representative from Qantas reportedly said it is “unfortunate” the union sees the program as a negative. “It’s all hands on deck at this time of year and we’re really grateful that some head office staff are willing to lend a hand,” he said.


So what do you think? Is gratitude payment enough for helping out at a busy time of year? Should operational staff be more involved in what happens on the ground, especially at busy times of year like Christmas? Could you see a similar scheme to this working in the ECEC sector?


Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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