The silliness of the Easter trading laws


It happens every year like clock work. Easter rolls around, and whilst most stores are compliant with laws that forbid them opening on Easter Friday and Easter Sunday, a few stores that are determined to trade open their doors. And with just the same reliability a compliance officer comes in and slaps them with $1,000 fines.

I accept that retail workers need holidays too. They work in a sector that is amongst the most likely to be open on public holidays where there is no compulsory closure. And indeed it is a good idea that a couple of days in each statutory calendar year exist where it is compulsory for stores to close. However, this is just part of a bigger problem with archaic trading laws that are distorted across the regions. For example at Queenstown in central Otago, there are no restrictions on trading at Easter. However nearby Wanaka, where there is a large air show every second year (2015 is the gap year), cannot trade. How silly is that?

Quite. At least one Member of Parliament has attempted to overturn the laws. In 2003 and 2009, Bills were brought before the House of Representatives in an attempt to amend the law. They failed for various reasons.

I guess it depends on ones view of what should be a public holiday. In New Zealand those holidays are:

  • New Years Day and the Day after (01 and 02 January);
  • Waitangi Day (06 February)
  • Easter Friday and Easter Sunday (compulsory closure days), plus Easter Monday;
  • A.N.Z.A.C. Day (25 April, compulsory closure until 1300hrs/Monday a public holiday if it falls on a weekend day);
  • Queens Birthday (first Monday of June);
  • Labour Day (last Monday of October);
  • Christmas Day (25 December);
  • Boxing Day (26 December);
  • individual province’s foundation day

As a proponent of New Zealand having its own holidays and not seeing any real purpose of another holiday just a few weeks after the Easter and A.N.Z.A.C. Day holidays, I see a couple of potential alternative holidays that we could celebrate instead. One is Matariki (the Maori New Year)in June, which would be a suitable nod of recognition to Maori culture outside of Waitangi Day, which is more about the historical significance of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. Another would be to make 26 September New Zealand Day – a day for ALL New Zealanders, regardless of where they are from, regardless of their religion. 26 September 1907 is the day New Zealand was granted Dominion by the Crown to make its own laws and be a sovereign nation, but nobody recognizes it.

I am ambivalent about whether or not religious holidays should exist. In the case of Easter, where it is more of a commercial event now than an actual holiday with recognized significance for most New Zealanders and an opportunity to go away for a few days, I do not really see why one religion can have a holiday and others cannot. If we look at the distribution of New Zealanders across the religious denominations now, would we actually find any clear cut majority? Certainly I think that Easter holidays, those stores that do not want to close should be allowed to open. Perhaps optional opening stores should increase the pay on statutory holidays to 2x normal pay.

But there are a couple exceptions that I think New Zealand needs to make on holiday trading laws:

  1. In recognition of their wartime service only essential services should be running and all non-essential businesses remain closed for the duration of A.N.Z.A.C. Day
  2. For purposes of family 25-26 December should be an essential services only period

But to keep the current laws is to stay stuck in the past, and not in the present.

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