Easter trading rules to be handed to local councils

JASON DORDAY/stuff.co.nz

Should businesses be allowed to open on Easter Sunday? We hit the streets to find out.

The Government is changing "arbitrary" national Easter Sunday trading restrictions.

The decision to allow shops and garden centres to stay open will be handed to councils.

Retailers have welcomed the proposed change but a union is unhappy about the loss of guaranteed days off for workers.

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Currently, public holidays are observed on Good Friday and Easter Monday, and Sunday is a restricted trading day.

Only some tourist towns - like Queenstown and Taupo - have exemptions from the heavy restrictions on trading.

It will be up to councils to decide if shops can open over Easter
Martin de Ruyter

It will be up to councils to decide if shops can open over Easter

Under legislation set to be introduced within weeks, all councils will be able to allow trading within their boundaries or within smaller, specific areas.

Workplace relations and safety minister Michael Woodhouse said the new trading rules were unlikely to come into effect until 2017.

The current laws were "arbitrary," he said. 

Workplace relations and safety minister Michael Woodhouse said legislation to change Easter trading rules would be ...
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ

Workplace relations and safety minister Michael Woodhouse said legislation to change Easter trading rules would be introduced to Parliament within weeks.

"The law allows certain shops selling specific items to remain open, while others must close their doors.

"It also includes several historical exemptions which allow shops in areas such as Queenstown and Taupo to open on Easter Sunday, while those in Wanaka and Rotorua cannot."

Rotorua and Wanaka were likely to be "the first cabs off the rank," for a change, Woodhouse said.

The legislation would give opportunities for staff to decline work "with no reason necessary," he said.

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Woodhouse said the "guaranteed day off" work on Easter Sunday was not paid unless workers took annual leave - and that would not change.

"This acknowledges Easter Sunday's continued status as a day of significance across the country, and maintains the ability of workers to take a period of leave over the Easter holiday if they choose."

ACT and United Future had given initial support to the new legislation, Woodhouse said.

Woodhouse denied the announcement was an attempt to distract from bungling over new health and safety reforms, which has seen mini-golf and worm farms designated "high-risk" businesses.

'SHOPPING IS A FAMILY PASTIME'

Retail NZ welcomed the announcement but said the Government could go further. 

"Outdated 1989 legislation tries to ban shopping in-store on certain days," chief executive Mark Johnston said.

"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 the 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."

'TINKERING'

Oderings Garden Centres director Darryn Odering welcomed the news of a law change. 

"We think people should be allowed to shop when they like," he said.

But Odering believed not also changing the Easter Friday law was "not helping me at all".

"It is just tinkering with a bad law."


One of the Oderings garden centres, open for business over Easter last year

The company had been prosecuted for Easter trading hundreds of times since the mid-1990s, but only once in relation to Easter Sunday.

In the past it had been a "victim-less crime", since Oderings never forced anyone to shop at its ten stores nationwide.

"We've catered for a demand," Odering said.

"I think it's an out-dated and archaic law.

"I just hope the local bodies and councils enforce it with common sense."

LESS TIME OFF FOR WORKERS

Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sam Huggard said the proposed changes would remove one of only 3.5 guaranteed days off in the year.

"For retail workers this is the only guaranteed time off and a lot of workers use that to take part in the activities that often happen around Easter - marae gatherings, family meetings, reunions and so on. It is really precious time that they can have off with their families.

"Of course everyone has their four weeks annual leave or more, but it is in terms of whether they can be required to come into work, there are only 3.5 days."

He said New Zealand's Sunday trading hours were also out-of-step with much of the Western world.

"We think those 3.5 days are worth protecting and keeping."

'PRAGMATIC'

Local Government New Zealand president Lawrence Yule said it was a good move.

Local authorities such as Queenstown, Rotorua and Wanaka had been struggling to deal with the old Easter Sunday trading laws with the large number of tourists they dealt with.

Giving them the decision on opening or not was pragmatic, Yule said.

But other areas would have to weigh up various factors before making their own decision.

"They will have to weigh up the competing issues around that, for want of a better word there's the religious component that needs to be respected."

He had been informed by the Government about the plans about nine months ago.

 - Stuff

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