Australia Day or Invasion Day? Telstra CEO Vicki Brady, NAB CEO Ross McEwan and REA CEO Owen Wilson to work on Australia Day

“For many First Nations peoples, Australia Day… marks a turning point that saw lives lost, culture devalued, and connections between people and places destroyed.”

She said she understood that “for many people the day is also a chance to spend time with friends and family and celebrate the many things we can be proud of as a community”, and that “the choice you make about how you spend Australia Day is a personal one”.

REA changed its workplace policy about Australia Day this year to allow staff to take a day off on a different date instead, and Mr Wilson is one of “a number of team members choosing to work on Thursday”.

Like Ms Brady, he said it was ultimately a choice for individuals.

“How we think about and celebrate our national day is deeply personal for all of us as Australians … We are encouraging our team to do what they feel is right for them.”

NAB is requiring staff to take the day off – though a spokesman said it was “considering alternative arrangements [for] future years” given the “distress” the date causes – but Mr McEwan will be working regardless.

“While Thursday is a national public holiday, there are a number of commitments Mr McEwan will be working on as NAB CEO,” the spokesman said.

The Australian Financial Review understands that while staff at the four banks will observe Australia Day as a regular public holiday, CEOs will likely do some work. CBA boss Matt Comyn is understood to have only just returned from his annual leave, while Westpac’s Peter King works every day.

Tech CEOs work through

ANZ CEO Shayne Elliott said he would be working from home on January 26.

“I will be available like any other day and checking emails etc. ‘Work day’ is a bit out of date in today’s world for many and particularly post-COVID when work and home have blended even more,” he said.

Several start-up CEOs also planned to work on Thursday.

“Celebrating the hurt, pain and suffering that others feel or were subjected to isn’t something that I want to do, so I’ll be working like any other day and finding a different time to celebrate what I love about Australia and reflect on where I’d like it to get to,” CEO of pet food company Scratch, Mike Halligan, said.

Founder and CEO of lab-grown meat company Vow Food, George Peppou, also planned to work on Australia Day and take next Monday off instead.

“This date has been, rightfully, a sensitive issue to the Indigenous community,” he said.

There did not seem to be “any ties to historical significance of that date”, he continued, and said all staff were given the option to swap January 26 for a different day off.

CEO of event rental site Gecko, Ben Kennedy, said he would be working on Thursday as “it fits into [his] values and what feels right” to him.

“I went to school with many Indigenous people and to many it’s a day of mourning, so I want to show support to them in any way I can,” he said.

Galileo VC founder Hugh Stephens was also working, saying this was “mostly because [he does] not believe it should be a holiday” but also because of the heavy workloads of start-up bosses.

Taking the day off

Several companies such as Woolworths, Coles, Toll and Atlassian do not allow staff to change their days off.

TPG Telecom executive Vanessa Hicks said that while the company did not have a formal policy around January 26, it was “implementing a trial with an employee work group to help inform what we may do from a policy perspective”.

“We are focused on creating a diverse and inclusive workplace,” she said, “where everyone feels they belong, and their voice is valued.”

Ms Hicks said many TPG workers already had to work on the public holiday to “directly support our customers” and that “others can raise requests to work the day with their leaders”.

Optus said it had a “flexible approach” and that “a number of our people will be working as their role requires it, or they might choose to do so”.

“We respectfully acknowledge that this day means different things to the members of our community,” a spokesman said.

Airlines Qantas and Virgin Australia will operate on January 26 the same as most days, with office and frontline staff coming in on shift to ensure flight services continue as smoothly as possible.

Virgin added that it worked collaboratively with Indigenous people through its reconciliation plan and would consider a public holiday swap program if put forward in the future.