Petstock Group instructs staff not to dress or decorate stores on Australia Day in the same month Woolworths acquired a majority stake in the company

One of Australia’s largest pet store chains has instructed staff not to dress up on Australia Day, despite the company encouraging employees to celebrate significant days.  

The Petstock Group sent a memorandum to staff at its 272 stores informing them of the company’s decision to boycott January 26 celebrations, the same month retail giant Woolworths acquired a majority stake in the company.

“Australia Day 26 of January means different things to each of us depending on who we are, where we come from, and how we came to be Australian,” the company said in an email to staff on Monday.

“At the Petstock Group, we remain committed to being an inclusive organisation. It’s at the heart of our mantra: people, pets, planet. We show respect to make sure everyone who comes through physical or digital doors feels like they belong.

“It’s for this reason that we won’t be dressing up on Australia Day in our stores, either bunting, around the cash registers, or staff displaying Australian flags, motives or green and gold.

“As you connect with your team, friends and family over January, and on Australia Day the 26th of January, please show respect and take care of each other. And take a moment to listen, understand and cherish what it means to be Australian.”

The memorandam to staff was read out on air by 2GB’s Ray Hadley on Tuesday morning, with the radio host revealing he had been contacted by Petstock employees unhappy about the decision.

In a message read out by Hadley, a Petstock employee said the general consensus in their store was “one of anger and a feeling of overreach by Petstock”.

“This means unlike previous years, stores are not allowed to decorate their stores nor staff allowed to dress up to celebrate the amazing country we live in, because it might offend some people,” the employee said.

The unnamed Petstock worker also revealed the approach to Australia Day contrasted with how employees are actively encouraged to dress up and decorate their stores for other significant days, ranging from Star Wars day, Halloween, grand finals, LGBTIQA Awareness Day, Mothers’ Day, Fathers’ Day and many more.

The Petstock Group responded to the controversy on Tuesday with a statement that was only marginally different to what the company told employees.

“On 26 January, we won’t be dressing up our stores, but encourage our team members to celebrate respectfully, with consideration to all our team members and customers from all nations,” the company said, after repeating the first two paragraphs from its email to staff.

“Petstock Group will not be commenting further on the matter, and ask for respect for our team members as they work in our stores in the coming days.”

Petsock Group’s decision to boycott Australia’s national day came the same month Woolworths acquired a 55 per cent stake in the company for $586 million.

The supermarket giant has been the subject of controversy since it announced the decision to no longer sell Australia Day merchandise at their supermarkets.

The move prompted federal opposition leader Peter Dutton to encourage customers to boycott Woolworths.

Last Wednesday it was also revealed that the supermarket giant has committed to “display Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags outside stores, sites and support offices where practicable”, by January 2025.

Woolworths was forced to clarify the policy, telling SkyNews.com.au they “don’t plan to add flags outside our supermarkets”.

“The specific statement refers to displaying the flags ‘where practicable’. The locations deemed practicable are those where the Australian flag is already flown,” a Woolworths spokesperson said.

The Woolworths spokesperson claimed the flag policy in the company’s Reconciliation Action Plan only refers to the company’s plan to fly the two Indigenous flags at “support offices” where the Australian flag is already flown – this is despite the commitment clearly mentioning “stores, sites and support offices”.

“The three flags will be flown together at these select sites, just as they are in countless other locations from primary schools to businesses and other institutions,” the spokesperson said.

When the supermarket giant was asked about their involvement in Petstock’s decision a spokesperson told SkyNews.com.au it was “a decision made independently by Petstock”.

The spokesperson said employees in Woolworths own stores were “welcome to dress up” for Australia Day. 

“Similarly to previous years, store teams are welcome to dress up to mark the occasion,” they said in a statement before noting food safety standards needed to be maintained.

“With this in mind, we encourage you and your teams to dress up in a family-friendly, tasteful way that ensures our customers feel safe and comfortable in our stores.”

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