Bid to keep Easter shopping-free


Over the years, various bills have been presented to Parliament to allow shops to open and trade on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day.

What was/is the objective of your campaign?

To retain Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and Christmas non-trading days for spiritual and social reasons.

Who was involved in your campaign for change?

St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Hamilton. 

What did the campaign achieve?

Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Christmas Day were retained as non-trading days (until next time a bill is presented to Parliament!) 

What tactics were employed to help you achieve your goal?

Formal written submissions were made to the Commerce Select Committee.  The parish has continued it’s stance against shopping on Easter by presenting modified versions of the material each time that Parliament has reconsidered allowing retailers to open on these days.

How did people from the congregation get on board with the project?

Regular reports to Parish Council and updates in our parish newsletter as appropriate.

Information for this case study was provided by Lance Kendrick, Convener of the Social and Ecumenical Action Group of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Hamilton.

Update On Submission To Department Of Labour: Interface Between The Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal Act 1990, Sale Of Liquor Act 1989 And Holidays Act 2003.

Organisation: The Social & Ecumenical Action Group of the Parish Council of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church, Hamilton

Date: 24 January 2008.

Question 1:  Do you consider that NZ law should in general treat Easter as a holiday weekend? What are your reasons?
Yes. Many of the discussion document’s questions primarily relate to Easter Sunday, but having the whole weekend as a “holiday weekend” is socially desirable in generalised terms. However, the higher religious significance of the Friday and Sunday has greater implications for the trading restrictions under review here.

A first principle that should be recognised is that most New Zealand citizens -- Christian or otherwise -- consider the 3 ½ days we currently have each year as non-trading days to be beneficial to society when enjoyed as non-commercial rest days/holy days. Collectively, Members of Parliament have reflected this in their voting on the seven Private Members’ Bills about the Easter issue during the past ten years or so, each time opting to keep the status quo.

More than 50% of the New Zealand population chose to identify themselves as Christian in the 2006 census. Good Friday and Easter Sunday are of deep spiritual importance for a significant proportion of the population and deserve to be marked and respected. For them, even more than “holidays” they are “holy days”. New Zealand is a healthier society, in all senses and for all people, through marking Good Friday and Easter Sunday as special days of reflection and recreation and family time. Therefore they should remain non-commercialised.

Easter Sunday is not currently a public holiday. While our key concern is that it remains a restricted-trading day for most goods and services, there would be benefit (monetary “compensation”) for workers in essential services and for workers in exempted “classes of shop” if Easter Sunday were to be designated as a public holiday, so we would support this being done. It would put it on the same footing as Good Friday and Christmas Day. However, making Easter Sunday an extra public holiday without designating it as a non-trading day would only compensate people for being required to work on it, not protect it from potential widespread trading. (This is borne out by the “Boxing Day” effect: a public holiday that nowadays has widespread shop trading. It has not stayed a rest day.) The point is, for the above reasons we don’t think people should generally be working and trading on Easter Sunday. Shopping should be the exception rather than the rule on Easter Sunday, and of course the same applies on Good Friday.

Existing geographical ‘”area exemptions” are anomalous and at odds with the significance of Easter Sunday and should be abolished whether Easter Sunday is a statutory holiday or not.

Question 2: Do you consider that the inconsistencies described between the Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal Act 1990 and the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 and the Holidays Act 2003 need to be addressed? For example, if special rules apply over the Easter weekend should they be consistent in terms of shop trading hours, sale of liquor and statutory holidays? Please explain why or why not.
Not necessarily. Retail legislation has long distinguished between liquor and other merchandise, in recognition of liquor’s social impact. “Inconsistencies” in legislation --  say, between “reducing alcohol-related harm” in the Sale of Liquor Act and restricting retail trading on “days of special significance” under the 1990 shop trading act -- are not necessarily in opposition to greater social good and mostly not very serious. We don’t have to go overboard with ideological purity. But see our comments in Question 4 a. below.

We have also commented in Q 1 on the Holidays Act, in relation to Easter Sunday.

The way to remove geographical inconsistencies -- which do have some real significance and cause dissatisfaction amongst some retailers who perceive disadvantage and feel they should open to remain competitive, even if they personally would prefer not to “have to” -- is to either allow shops to trade in all geographical areas, or permit none to trade. We agree that the existing historical area-exemptions dating from the 1977 Act’s application (pre-1990) are pretty random and frozen in time: Taupo can trade, but Rotorua cannot; Parnell can trade, but Newmarket cannot, for instance. (Interestingly, about 75% of Newmarket retailers don’t really want to open on Easter Sunday, according to a poll quoted in “Rudman’s City” in the  New Zealand herald 12 Dec 07: A7.) Given the significance of Easter Sunday, by far the cleanest and most principled way to gain clarity is to phase out expeditiously the existing “area exemptions”, over two years, say. Area-exemptions create confusion, especially in the minds of tourists. Penalties need to be increased for genuine deterrence from deliberately infringing the law.

We are of the view that, on the basis of the “reasonable need”  of consumers, New Zealand should retain current limited exceptions for “classes of shop” as listed in Section 4 (1) of the existing 1990 Act and quoted in your Appendix 2, in order to provide for essential supplies, convenience items, souvenirs, and food and drink (and gardening). [The listing of “allowed goods”, as applied before 1990, was impracticable.] It would also be reasonable to enable all shops in passenger terminals to trade on restricted days and to broaden Section 4(1)(e) of the 1990 Act to also allow retail trading on restricted days at cultural, sporting and/or other public entertainment events e.g. concerts, or Warbirds over Wanaka.

Question 3:  Do you agree with the impact of the inconsistencies described? Can you think of any other impacts from these inconsistencies? Is there a difference when considered from the perspective of the business owner, the employee and the customer?
Whether someone is a business owner, an employee or a consumer (and you can be more than one at the same time) they all benefit from being part of a healthy, rested and rejuvenated society. Retailers do need a level playing field, which can be achieved through the sorts of measures outlined in our Q 2 and Q 4 responses.

Question 4: Which one of the following statements best describes your view and why?
a. Shop trading and sale of liquor rules on Easter Sunday should remain as they currently are (status quo).

 Out of a, b and c this is the closest to our view, recognising the need to retain the Easter weekend’s special character and that it is not “the same as any other weekend” (the option in Q 4 c.) The 3 full days currently exempted from annual trading are the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Hardly any retailers are pushing for Christmas Day opening, but we’re not sure why not, if the logic of some retailers’ Easter Sunday arguments were to be followed. Christmas Day celebrates the birth of Christ, the Messiah. Good Friday marks the day of his crucifixion. If nothing else had happened subsequent to that, Christianity would not exist. Easter Sunday is the day of Christ’s resurrection: it is the day that reveals the meaning of Christ’s birth, ministry, and sacrificial death. Easter Sunday is the truth of the Gospel. It proclaims God’s love, the fulfilment of God’s promise. Easter Sunday is therefore not the least significant of these 3 days, not somehow OK to trade on because “it doesn’t matter much”, or because the sombreness of Good Friday is behind us and we’re happy now, so let’s shop (or become happy by shopping). Actually, we don’t see any large groundswell of public opinion – as opposed to some retailer opinion – calling for wider shop openings.

However, as a modification of the status quo, we do not think that shop trading area-exemptions should continue to exist. (See Q 1 and Q 2 above.) They could be phased out expeditiously over say a two year period. We think that most tourists -- once it is explained to them that we close shops only for Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, plus Anzac Day morning -- can appreciate that New Zealand already has very liberalised trading laws, especially when compared with many other countries. All New Zealanders should know that already. The restricted trading days in the Easter weekend are not contiguous, and so it is hardly impracticable for citizens or tourists if they are unable to make general purchases on these 2 days – they have the Saturday, they have the Monday.

With the Sale of Liquor Act we think the criterion should be the emphasis of an on-licensed premise’s activity: is it predominantly on serving food ready to eat, or predominantly on serving liquor ready to drink? If the former, (say, 75% of total sales-value being from meals) then we think it is reasonable that liquor is able to be served – whether the premises are cafes and restaurants on the one hand, or bistros and brasseries on the other. Taverns and non-residential hotels are still unlikely to qualify for trading. Off-licences should definitely continue not to operate.
For a recommended extension to “classes of shop”, see Q 2 above.

b.. Either or both the shop trading and sale of liquor (delete one if you wish) rules should allow for some areas or businesses to have exemptions from trading restrictions on Easter Sunday. 
c. Either or both the shop trading and sale of liquor (delete one if you wish) rules on Easter Sunday should be the same as any other weekend.

Question 5: If an exemption-making power is reinstated, how would you prefer to see it implemented (e.g. should local authorities or the Minister of Labour make the decision)? Please explain your view.
Exemption-making powers would be difficult to operate, and antithetical to our argument for not having general trading on Easter Sunday on the grounds of its significance to society. If authority were given to local government, the Councils’ consultation and decision-making processes would almost certainly create all sorts of anomalies around the country, especially for nationwide chains, should some territorial authorities opt for Easter Sunday trading. That outcome could create further confusion for the tourists who are said to be one of the prime groups who require generalised Easter Sunday shopping. It would almost-certainly compound the anomalies already existing through there being exempted places like Taupo and Queenstown. The problems would be little different with the Minister of Labour making the decisions, though possibly with less accountability as the job would be delegated to ministry officials.

Question 6: If an exemption-making power is reinstated, what criteria do you think should be applied to the granting of exemptions (e.g. is the area a significant tourist or holiday destination)?
It’s hard to know. Some argue that tourism is a large contributor to our GDP and GST and that businesses need to service and satisfy retail demand. But what area does not have tourists? Others think of a broader target audience, the general population as well as tourists. We have said above that tourists can have it explained to them that Good Friday and Easter Day are 2 days out of just 3 ½ when we don’t generally trade. We can be proud of that, not apologetic.

We consider that our fourth paragraph in Q 2 sets out a fairly good description of what  would be a balanced but limited range of exceptions (“classes of shop”), not geographically based.

Question 7: If the exemption-making power is reinstated, should shop trading and sale of liquor restrictions/exemptions be considered at the same time? Please explain why or why not.
Not necessarily. There are minor anomalies between shop trading and sale of liquor legislation which could be addressed if exemptions were to be broadened, but granting exemptions to achieve “harmonisation” would not be the way to go about this – it would be missing the point of Easter. We have suggested above (in Q 4 a) a way in which the sale of liquor could be slightly liberalised on Easter Sunday so as to allow consistent practice between cafes and bistros etc if concentrating on food, but we are not implying that liquor is just an ordinary category of merchandise.

Question 8: What information do you have on the potential costs/benefits of any of these options? Please provide any supporting information.
It stands to reason that to set up a system of granting exemptions by local authorities would incur considerable cost in the study, hearings and consent processes, to say nothing of appeals. Local government already complains about costs passed on to it from central government e. g. for developing bylaws about brothels or pokies, and policing them.

Question 9: Do you consider that Easter Sunday should or should not be treated as a public holiday? Please explain why or why not.
It should be treated as both a restricted-trading day (essential) and a 12th public holiday (highly desirable). We have explained this in Q 1 etc.

Question 10: If you consider Easter should be treated as a public holiday, which one of the following statements best describes your view and why?

a. Increase the number of public holidays to 12 by making Easter Sunday the 12th public holiday
And also keep it as a restricted-trading day.  We have explained why in earlier questions.
b. Maintain the number of public holidays at 11 by making Easter Sunday a public holiday, subject to 'mondayisation' arrangements similar to Christmas and New Year holidays when they fall on Sunday
c. Treat Easter Sunday as if it were a public holiday for employees of businesses affected by new amendments to the Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal Act 1990 or the Sale of Liquor Act 1989. This would not apply to those that are currently able to trade under an exemption or exception.

Question 11: What information do you have on the potential costs/benefits of any of these options? Please provide any supporting information.
By international standards New Zealand does not have an unreasonable number of public holidays. For instance, Australians have between 11 and 13 public holidays a year, depending on which state they reside in. Many have 12.

Question 12: If there are changes to shop trading and sale of liquor restrictions do you consider that there should be additional protections for employees? Please explain why or why not.
Yes, but difficult to achieve, in reality. We’ve already explained why Easter Sunday is special, so anyone who is required to work should be “compensated” monetarily on the basis of it being a public holiday (which still does not compensate for loss of recreational, family and worship/reflection time).

Question 13: Do you consider that the proposals are adequate and appropriate? Please explain why or why not.
Inadequate. The Shop Trading Hours Working Group’s recommended protections are fairly pie-in-the-sky. An “absolute right to refuse to work” would be diluted through an unwillingness on the part of workers to seem unprepared to share in the burden of working on Easter Sunday alongside one’s colleagues. Even more significantly, shopkeepers with small staffs cannot easily “engage casual staff, on each such occasion, to work solely on that day”: this Working Group suggestion implies that in many cases retailing does not require specialized knowledge of products. Saying that “an employee’s express agreement to work could not be specified in their employment agreement or a condition of their employment” is all very well, but there would be (sometimes subtle) pressure immediately or over time if they want to hold their jobs, or at the point of changing jobs e.g. working/not working “choices” when Saturday trading was brought in in 1980, and then Sunday trading in 1990.

Question 14: If there are changes to shop trading and sale of liquor restrictions do you consider that employee protections should be targeted to only apply to employees in businesses affected by these changes? Please explain why or why not.
No. If part of the agenda of liberalising Easter trading is to “remove anomalies” then it would be unfair to one group of employees to bed-in inequalities in conditions of service.

Question 15: If there are changes to shop trading and sale of liquor restrictions do you consider that there should be additional protections for leaseholders? Please explain why or why not.
As with Q 12, yes, but very difficult to achieve. Licence-holders as well as leaseholders can be affected if Easter trading is liberalised.

Question 16: Do you consider that the proposals are adequate and appropriate? Please explain why or why not.
No. When the Working Group suggested that retailers should not be required to open on any newly-liberalised days “(unless the retailer could already open then) for the duration of the lease or until its renegotiation” we see quite a frank admission in the last four words that this recommendation would soon be over-ridden. A retailer in a mall, for example, could not assert much power in renegotiation.

Question 17: If there are changes to shop trading and sale of liquor restrictions do you consider that leaseholder protections should be targeted to only apply to businesses affected by these changes? Please explain why or why not.
No. As for Q 14, but this time in relation to leaseholders.

Question 18: Do you consider that penalties for breaching shop trading restrictions need to be increased? If so, which option or options do you support for increasing penalties? Please explain why you do or do not support this option or options.
Definitely increase penalties. The three options given in the discussion document are not at odds with each other: we support them all and say that the fines should be inflation-indexed in the regulations. Because certain retailers have in the past tried to make Easter trading an inflammatory issue, we think that the clarifications of law that we have been recommending would create a level playing field -- and should then definitely be supported with enforcement.

Question 19: Do you consider that Labour Inspectors' powers of enforcement need to be increased? If so, is this option adequate and appropriate? Please explain why you do or do not think this is the case.
Yes, to both questions. As with Q 18, the revised legislation needs to be supported. Until now, the Department of Labour has been in an invidious position each Easter weekend.

Question 20: Do you have any other comments?
Thank you for this opportunity to give you feedback from the community.

This submission update provided by Lance Kendrick, Convener of the Social and Ecumenical Action Group of St Andrew’s Presbyterian Church Hamilton.