by PETER GRACE
In washing its hands of Easter trading responsibilities, the Government is failing to protect family time together on one of our few remaining shop-free days, says Caritas-Aotearoa New Zealand.
Caritas director Julianne Hickey said the Catholic social justice agency is surprised and appalled by proposed Easter trading legislation, as it will impact most on working families.
“We know from long experience how precious our few remaining shop-free days are for families and communities. There are a range of activities that take place at Easter, because most New Zealand workers are guaranteed time off work — including church activities, but also sports tournaments, school reunions, hui, unveilings and other marae gatherings,” said Mrs Hickey.
Once shops are open, Mrs Hickey said, many retail workers and others such as cleaners and security workers will end up working whether they want to or not.
“For those experiencing financial pressure, families and communities will be deprived of their presence, and our whole society will be the poorer for it. Giving more choice to businesses takes away choice from working families and it impoverishes communities,” she said.
There had been no consultation with Churches or unions on this proposed legislation, Mrs Hickey said.
The FIRST Union said the government’s plan to allow local authorities to determine if shops and garden centres can open on Easter Sunday just shifts the problem to a different decision-maker.
The union’s retail and finance secretary, Maxine Gay, said the Minister’s promise that the law will give workers the choice to accept or decline work without reason is hollow.
“The same promise was made when Sunday trading was introduced, but it never came to anything,” Ms Gay said.
The adviser for Family Life in Wellington archdiocese, Sue Devereux, told NZ Catholic that it was an issue that her desk always knew would come.
“I am thinking back to the last time that we discussed it, we sort of came to the conclusion that we wouldn’t be able to stop it when it happened, and did we have the right to stop it?” she said. “Did we have the right to impose our Christian beliefs on other people?”
The idea of closing everything down so people could have a break, was lovely, Mrs Devereux said.
The national director of Family First, Bob McCoskrie, said his organisation rejected any liberalisation of Easter trading laws, because workers deserved that 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,” Mr McCoskrie said. “Anzac Day, Easter and Christmas remain as one of the few times when the whole country stops and takes a break,” he said.
Ms Gay also questioned if the proposed Bill would be a conscience vote.
“In the past it has, but it looks like this time the National Party may be trampling over its own members with a conscience,” she said.
“The proposed Bill does nothing to address the shambles that the Government says exists in current legislation. We could see some parts of the country, such as an area with a major tourist event, being denied Easter Sunday trading by a local authority, and another where these is no reason for such trading, being granted it.”
Mr McCoskrie said tourists cope with shops closed on Easter Sunday.
“Many countries have public holidays with shops closed, and tourists simply plan around it, accepting it as part of the local culture and identity,” he said.
A Research NZ poll 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.