Easter trading laws slammed and hailed at same time

Easter, eggs, chocolateThe government intends to liberalise Easter trading laws and hopes to introduce a bill to parliament in the next few weeks, with changes coming into effect in 2017.

This refers to a legal sphere that is characterised by its complexity and arbitrary nature.

This is manifest in certain shops selling specific items being permitted to remain open while others cannot as well as historical exemptions being the order of the day which permit shops in areas such as Taupo to open on Easter Sunday while those in Rotorua cannot.

Regardless, Family First NZ is slamming the government wholesale for its intention to liberalise Easter trading laws and questions how long before Christmas day and Anzac day are also liberalised.

It is also criticising the National Party for refusing to allow a conscience vote on an issue which has always been very contentious, with individual politicians from different parties holding wide-ranging views.

“We reject any liberalisation of Easter trading laws because workers deserve this special annual break to spend time with their families. The government doesn’t seem to understand that a focus on economic improvement should never come at the cost of weakening the quality and special time that families can spend together. Anzac Day, Easter, and Christmas remain as one of the few times when the whole country stops and takes a break,” says Bob McCoskrie, national director of Family First NZ.

“Is this payback for the ‘Mondayisation’ legislation that was passed recently against the government’s wishes? The only people celebrating this law change will be those who are making money from it.

“These holidays are traditions. They create rituals for families, not based on shopping but on celebrating together, reconnecting, and making memories. Poll after poll has shown that both parents and children want to spend more time doing family things like picnics and holidays together. However, this is becoming increasingly difficult as the retail industry is required to work almost every day of the year, and shoppers focus on holiday specials.

“To argue that it is justified because shoppers are able to shop online is a flawed argument. If it was a valid argument, retailers in New Zealand would have to be open 24/7.

“This is also not an issue about choice as has been argued. For many workers, they don’t have the luxury of choice as to whether they work or not.

“Tourists will cope. Many countries have public holidays with shops closed, and tourists simply plan around it, accepting it as part of the local culture and identity. New Zealanders love visiting Pacific Island nations and still manage to enjoy themselves even when everything shuts down on a Sunday.

“Towns do have every right to feel peeved that neighbouring towns can stay open when they can’t. The law needs to be consistent and enforced.”

Family First says it is shocked that National MPs will not be able to exercise a conscience vote on this issue despite widespread views being held by National MPs in all previous votes on this issue.

A Research NZ poll in 2010 found that almost two out of three New Zealanders oppose a change to the legislation to allow retailers to open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Not all have taken Family First NZ’s stance, with mooted changes to Easter trading laws already winning the backing of local councils and the tourism industry.

As part of the proposed law changes, workers will be given the right to refuse to work on Easter Sunday without needing to provide a reason. Unions however maintain that absence might not be so easy as a result of power relations in the workplace.

Local Government NZ president, Lawrence Yule, says mayors in tourism centres have been asking for the power to allow trading on Easter Sunday for many years.

“It is pleasing that the government has recognised that local government has a unique role in its ability to develop policies and regulations that suit local circumstances,” he says.

Retail NZ has welcomed government’s move but has also called for government to go further in allowing New Zealanders to choose when they shop.

“Outdated 1989 legislation tries to ban shopping instore on certain days,” says Retail NZ CEO, Mark Johnston.

“The old legislation is seriously out of date, is riddled with exemptions that make it nonsensical, and ignores the fact that customers can now shop 24/7 over the internet.

“It’s great news for shoppers and retailers alike that more flexibility is being proposed, but there is a place for considering whether government has any place in 2015 regulating shopping hours, outside the Anzac Day remembrance period.

“Shopping is a now a family pastime. Kiwis love to shop, and the government shouldn’t be trying to regulate when that happens. No matter what the day, nobody should be forced to shop, no shops should be forced to open, and no employees should be forced to work.”

Johnston also has concerns about delegating decision making to local authorities.

“Retail NZ would prefer to see a national approach, rather than having decision making delegated to local authorities. Bylaw processes across every local authority region will create significant cost for ratepayers and compliance cost for business. In a nation of less than five million people, it’s hard to see why a national approach is not feasible,” he says.

Business in NZ has also welcomed this move according to Phil O’Reilly, CEO of  Business NZ.

“Giving local government the ability to decide what will work for their region makes sense,” says O’Reilly.

“There are many instances of businesses, particularly in tourism and retail, wanting to offer their trade to their communities. It’s long been a frustration for many that they couldn’t open at all over one of the busiest periods of the year.

“Ideally, councils will work closely with businesses and the wider community to determine what works best for them. It’s as much about being available to the locals as it is about shops being open for holiday makers.

“Allowing trading on the Sunday strikes a good balance between weighing up benefits for businesses and the community and respecting the wishes of individual employees. Agreement will be necessary and that means employees can also choose between working or enjoying the holiday.”

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