Easter trading choice assertion questioned

Dougal McGowan
Dougal McGowan

The chief executive of the Otago Chamber of Commerce got a grilling yesterday after arguing 100% of members surveyed wanted the choice of opening on Easter Sunday.

Dougal McGowan came to the Easter Sunday trading policy hearing with a survey that included the question: "Should retail businesses be allowed to be open on Easter Sunday?''

While 62% said yes, 34% said no to the question.

Mr McGowan argued if he "extrapolated'' those figures, they showed 100% wanted the choice of opening.

But he was pulled up by Cr Damian Newell, who said 34% had said they shouldn't be allowed to open.

"That's not freedom of choice.

"The question's very clear - should businesses be allowed to open on Easter Sunday? - 34% said no, they shouldn't.

"So how did you get your 100%?

Mr McGowan said if the council created a "permissive bylaw'', 100% would get what they wanted.

The hearing committee of Cr Newell, chairman Cr Andrew Whiley, Cr Kate Wilson and Cr Marie Laufiso, was hearing submissions on the policy for the second and final day, with Mr McGowan the only submitter to appear yesterday.

In August, the council voted to put out for consultation a draft policy to allow shops to open on Easter Sunday.

The policy would include "right to refuse'' provisions, allowing employees to refuse to work on the day without repercussions.

Decisions on Easter Sunday trading were devolved to councils after the Government amended the Shop Trading Hours Act last year.

Of submissions in the consultation process, 53% wanted the status quo - in which only businesses such as garden centres and dairies can open on Easter Sunday - while 44% wanted all shops to be allowed to open.

Proponents of the policy have argued Dunedin had to be open on Easter Sunday next year, as more than 60,000 people would be visiting the city for the Ed Sheeran concert.

Mr McGowan began his submission with the story of a woman he said had urged him to tell the committee she needed to work on days like Easter Sunday.

"I need that money to pay my rent,'' she had told him.

"I need that money to help my mokopuna join a sports team for winter.

"I need that opportunity to work to earn money to possibly pay for some of my heating in my house as it starts to get cooler.''

Cr Kate Wilson asked Mr McGowan what he would be doing on Easter Sunday next year.

Mr McGowan said he would be painting his Te Anau bach with his son, while his wife was in Dunedin at the concert and "hopefully, shopping''.

Cr Wilson said he was fortunate to be able to plan ahead for the weekend.

Workers, on the other hand, might not have that luxury.

She wondered if those workers' rights were being protected.

Cr Laufiso raised the issue of the worker who told him she wanted to work on the day, and asked if the chamber lobbied members on the conditions and pay of retail workers.

She said the pay was low, and "of course they want to work'' to earn what they needed to live.

Mr McGowan responded the organisation was an advocate group, not a lobby group, but it supported the rise in the minimum wage.

Cr Whiley said the committee would reconvene on Monday, at which time he expected a decision would be made.

Comments

The flaw in the argument of choice is that it is entirely dependent on the wording of your lease. i run 19 retail stores across NZ. Almost all are in Malls and my leases stipulate that I must be open when the Mall is open and if I am not I will be fined (heavily - eg., $2000 for the first hour and then hundreds of dollars for each additional hour). So if the Mall decides to open then my choice is to open or pay a massive fine. That is actually not a choice. So yes, my staff will be free to say no, and I support that, but the argument that this would be a permissive decision ignores the legal reality of our lease commitments. That may not be relevant to most stand alone retailers but it is likely to be for those in Malls. My staff get 3.5 days a year that they can guarantee to be with their families if they chose to do so. They should continue to get that.

Mall retailers can be open. The issue is whether staff can be compelled to work. If they are forced to work, compensation, on Easter Sunday at least, should be double time.