I doubt there is any law as inconsistent and illogical as our current Easter shop trading laws.
Let us start with the fact this law bans employees from being able to earn extra money. We’re in a recession and times are tough. A shop assistant could earn say an extra $450 if they were allowed to work this Friday and Sunday. That would be enough money so they could then actually afford a holiday later in the year.
Then let us look at the fact Easter Sunday is not a public holiday. We have a law that bans you from being able to work on a day which is not even a public holiday. It is simply a religious day. Easter Monday is a public holiday and you are allowed to work that day, but in most cases not on Easter Sunday.
Some may claim the law allows people the weekend off. Apart from the fact that the law removes any choice from employees, it does not. People can be forced to work on Easter Saturday. Would it not be far superior to say have a law that says no employee (except essential services) can be forced to work over the four Easter days, but that they can do so if they wish. As present they can be forced to work on at least one of those days, and have no choice about working the other two.
Then we have the anomalies. Where do you start. How about a four square can not open but a Star Mart can? How about the fact a souvenir shop can open but a gift shop can not? And the garden centre amendment that allowed them to open on Easter Sunday, but not Good Friday?
And that is before we even deal with regional anomalies. Shops in Queenstown can open, but not Wanaka. Taupo is okay, but not Rotorua.
The law is a mess. It is anti-worker and anti-choice. We have a law that stops many workers from being able to earn extra money – some of it as holiday and penal rates. It is nothing to do with protecting workers – it is about compelling them. Workers already have protection from being forced to work on protected days under the Act:
No worker shall be required to work on a protected day or at night. No undue influence shall be applied to any worker in an attempt to induce that worker to agree to work on a protected day or at night. No action shall be taken to discriminate against or disadvantage any worker not wishing to work on a protected day or at night.
Now again Easter Sunday is not a public holiday. It is a religious day. Removing from workers the ability to choose to work that day (if their employers wish to open) does not guarantee them Easter off – they can be forced to work Easter Saturday.
Rotorua MP Todd McClay has a private members bill that is a small step forward. It allows local communities to decide whether or not shops can open on Easter Sunday. Hopefully Parliament will do the right thing and not cave into to the unholy alliance between the religious right and the union left.