Easter trading shemozzle

The confusion over Easter trading arises every year. Hardly anyone knows all the rules and what applies and where and when.

There are those, including the Act New Zealand party and some business interests, who argue restrictions are anachronistic.

The muddle would be solved by open slather. Let shops and businesses themselves decide.

An Act Member’s Bill along these lines in 2022 failed to pass. Act was again lobbying on the matter last week.

Others, including unions and churches, maintain that precious time for families and faith should be preserved. Surely, a few days a year free of commercialism and shopping is beneficial.

It was not so many years ago that Saturdays and Sundays were restricted, Friday nights being the busy shopping focus.

Widespread Saturday shopping opened from 1980, and Sundays from 1989.

In 2016, a National party bloc vote enabled local authorities to decide if Easter Sunday shopping would be allowed in their areas.

The Dunedin City Council voted yes for the following year, the Ed Sheeran concerts, but no after that. Waitaki, Invercargill and Gore said no.

Clutha, Central Otago, Queenstown Lakes and Southland (which includes Te Anau) said yes.

Supermarkets, therefore, are allowed to open in some parts of the South but not in others. By the way, alcohol sales are not permitted, except with meals at restaurants.

Gardens centres everywhere are allowed to open but not clothing shops. Go figure.

What a hotch-potch. What a shemozzle.

Staff retain the right to say no to working on Easter Sunday — at least according to the law — and without having to give a reason.

Easter Sunday is, as it happens, technically not a public holiday with mandatory commensurate extra pay and time in lieu, unlike Good Friday and Easter Monday. This creates more potential for confusion.

Photo: ODT files
Photo: ODT files
That leaves just Good Friday, Christmas Day and Anzac Day to 1pm days when, mostly, essential services and shops can open but not everyone else.

But Good Friday is compromised by an "exception order" that came through the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990 from the earlier 1977 Act.

The idea was that the likes of Queenstown, Paihia and Taupō as tourist towns could open.

But that became increasingly ludicrous because Wānaka and Rotorua were not included.

It is little wonder that shops in Wānaka, notably the New World supermarkets, flout the rules.

All they are liable for is a fine of up to $1000. The supermarkets were fined $750 each for opening on Good Friday in 2021 and 2022.

Given the tens of thousands of visitors to Warbirds Over Wanaka, it made sense for the supermarkets and other businesses to open. If there are "tourist" exceptions, these should be extended to Wānaka and other "tourist" towns.

The Shop Trading Hours Act should be amended to make that possible, although deciding what are "tourist" centres will provoke different views.

Parliament over the years has proved reluctant to adopt Act’s approach.

The Labour Department at one stage sought opinions on a discussion document on the future of Easter trading laws. The Labour-led government in March 2018 announced it would not proceed with any changes because submissions were polarised.

Strong community feelings remain that it is worthwhile to retain at least a few oases from incessant commercialism and shopping, although online shopping continues.

Unions and the Green Party were vehemently opposed to further liberalisation.

Churches were too. Easter for Christians includes their two most significant "holy days". The death and "resurrection" of Jesus is far more significant than Christmas.

Even in an age where practising Christians are a minority, the Easter holidays arise from this country’s tradition and culture.

Easter Sunday is such a mess and is so far gone that perhaps the time has come for opening that day up consistently.

Nevertheless, it is valuable and not too much to ask to at least retain Good Friday — along with Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning — as largely commercial-free sanctuaries.