Unilever NZ encouraging employees to exchange public holidays for more culturally significant days

A major consumer goods manufacturer is encouraging employees to exchange public holidays for other days that are more culturally significant to them.

Unilever Australia and New Zealand introduced a policy in 2021 that means workers can choose to work public holidays in exchange for another day off whenever they want. 

For instance, a Jewish employee could work Easter and take Yom Kippur off in September instead.

The policy is in line with New Zealand's employment laws which allow public holidays to be switched for different days. 

According to Employment New Zealand requests to transfer public holidays can be made by the employer or the employee and must be considered in good faith by both parties. Any agreement must also meet the minimum set out in the law.

Head of HR at Unilever Australia and New Zealand Shruti Ganeriwala said the policy gives employees more flexibility and freedom.

"This means that if our employees would prefer to work on a public holiday, they can exchange this day for one of the many other days of cultural significance throughout the year that isn't already a public holiday," Ganeriwala said.

"We want Unilever to be a diverse, inclusive, and equitable workplace for all. To do this, it's essential our policies and workforce are representative and supportive of the many rich cultures and identities that make up Australia and New Zealand."

Ganeriwala said the company also offers equal parental leave opportunities, support for employees going through gender affirmation journeys and unisex bathrooms.

"These are just a few of the steps we've taken, and we still have much more to do but we're on a mission to lead by example," Ganeriwala added.

The policy has made waves in Australia because it allows employees to opt out of the contentious Australia Day public holiday.

Unilever manager Rachael Hennin worked Australia Day last year and told News.com.au she will be skipping it again this year.

"Australia is and always will be Aboriginal land," Hennin told News.com.au "and by working on January 26 I want to demonstrate my respect for the Traditional Owners of our beautiful country.

"Last year, I really enjoyed saying 'I can't come to the beach, I'm working on January 26' because it opened up some really important conversations."

Australia Day marks the 1788 landing of the First Fleet at Sydney Cove. The holiday is increasingly controversial because for some the day is seen as celebrating the beginning of European settlement and the genocide and brutality Aboriginal people faced.