Nats to discuss Mondayising holidays

12:33, Feb 14 2012

The National Party caucus will today consider giving workers Monday off whenever Anzac and Waitangi days fall on the weekend, as pressure grows on the Government to back the change.

The issue will be debated by Parliament following the introduction of Labour Party member's bill.

The Government's support partner, United Future leader, Peter Dunne, yesterday said he would support the bill, meaning it could pass without National if opposition parties united.

New Zealand First today said it will support Labour's bill because New Zealanders already have some of the longest working hours in the OECD.

"The economic plan this country's got is not rewarding people so the least they can do is give them that Monday off," leader Winston Peters said

Australia was as concerned about Anzac Day as New Zealand and still managed to take an extra day off when the holiday fell a weekend, he said.

Key said he expected National would take a party position on Labour MP David Clark's bill that would Mondayising Waitangi Day and Anzac Day, rather than allowing a free- or conscience-vote.

He said he wanted to get full and accurate information for the National caucus before it made a decision.

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Asked what was the strongest argument for the move, he said:  "People value their holidays and they like to plan around that and for the most part they can rely on the fact they will get a holiday. But obviously occasionally that doesn't occur. That's the strongest argument in the Department of Labour's advice as well; that it's really about families and having to spend some time together."

Key said on Monday the department recommended against the Mondayising move.

He expected Clark's bill to be before the House in about six weeks.

National did not have a caucus meeting next week so a decision on how his party would vote would likely be taken in a fortnight.

The next time one of the two holidays fell on a weekend was 2015 and both would fall at the weekend in 2021

The Department of Labour had advised the Government Mondayising Anzac and Waitangi days would affect about 1.4 million people, with the rest of the workforce expected to work on those days.

It would cost about $200 million per holiday but Key said he had asked for more information on that estimate, which was about 0.3 per cent of GDP.

"If you are a salary worker, it really doesn't make any difference because you get paid a certain amount anyway, and if you are on wages you get time-and-a-half and a day in lieu.

"Some people will argue it is built into the system, employers pay it most of the time... so rather than costing the economy, it's a little bonus which goes the other way."

New Zealand had a decent number of holidays and Anzac Day and Waitangi Day mostly fell on week days, Key said.

"We are conscious of the fact that there are a lot of small businesses in New Zealand and they are struggling.

"We are trying to keep them in their jobs and keep them afloat."

The CTU has called on National to support the legislation and says it would be in recognition of the hours worked by Kiwis, which it said were acknowledged as among the longest in the OECD.

It is rubbishing the Labour Department claim of a $400m drag on the economy, saying employers budgeted for that cost because Anzac Day and Waitangi Day fall on a working day most years.

President Helen Kelly said the figure also under-estimated the upside of having a long weekend, because people tended to spend more.

"Actually it generates business a long weekend. Business never think about that; people go shopping, they go on holiday....the economy can benefit; there is a trade off."

Key said yesterday the Department of Labour had estimated 1.4 million workers would be affected by any change and Monday-ising either day would place a $200m burden on the economy, or $400 million if both fell on a weekend. But he had asked for further advice as those figures seemed "superficial".

He acknowledged the argument that it was effectively a cost which employers bore most years and "that is one of the reasons we need to actually have a look at it".

Dunne said he did not accept the argument that it was a cost on the economy because it happened so rarely and he worried that people would feel either Waitangi Day or Anzac Day had been cheapened by not observing them as a public holiday.

"These are days that are important to New Zealanders".

Key said the the Labour Department also advised him that New Zealand was "on the reasonably generous end" in terms of the number of holidays given to workers - but his office yesterday refused to supply the Labour Department report and Kelly said that claim was wrong.

The CTU claims New Zealand workers are worse off than most - and a worldwide study by recruiting agency Mercer seems to fly in the face of the Labour Department's evidence.

That study suggests NZ ranks around 25th of 41 countries in terms of statutory holidays and minimum annual leave, below countries including Finland, Brazil, France, Lithuania and Greece.

Key said yesterday there was no hurry for National to decide its position and he wanted more advice first.

But with Dunne indicating his likely support for the Labour-initiated bill, it could potentially pass without National, as his vote gives the Government its one-seat majority.

That assumes the Maori Party, the Greens and NZ First also support the legislation.

Currently, workers miss out on a public holiday if either Anzac Day or Waitangi Day falls at the weekend.

Anzac Day next falls on a weekend in 2015 but it won't be till 2021 that both days do.

Labour leader David Shearer said New Zealanders were entitled to 11 public holidays a year and for two holidays people missed out when they fell on a weekend.

When averaged out over the population, the $200 million cost came to about 13c a person, he said.

He also disagreed that it cheapened the occasion being celebrated.

"I think that's completely wrong, we're not talking about shifting Anzac Day from a Sunday onto a Monday, we still celebrate Anzac Day on the Sunday we have the Monday off as well... in fact if anything it probably enhances our ability to think through about Anzac Day and what it means."

Labour MP David Clark, who picked up the member's bill from Grant Robertson, said people normally had the holidays and only missed out two years out of every seven.

The new MP said it would be a good start for him if the Prime Minister decided to support his bill.

"It's good luck for me and I hope it will be good news for everybody."

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