Public holiday entitlements

Labour's new Dunedin North member of Parliament, David Clark, was indeed lucky that his Holidays (Full Recognition of Waitangi Day and Anzac Day) Amendment Bill was drawn from the member's Bill ballot on the first full official day in Parliament earlier this month. The Bill, which is the work of Labour's deputy leader, Grant Robertson, would ensure that if Waitangi Day and Anzac Day fell on either a Saturday or Sunday, the following Monday would be a public holiday. Not surprisingly, one poll on the issue has shown New Zealanders - about 80% - are largely in favour of the change.

People are hardly going to reject the possibility of extra holidays.

Thus, Dr Clark, on a matter of interest to the public, is on a winner. Rather than being subsumed into the relative obscurity of Opposition backbencher, he has had the chance to receive a little positive publicity and some recognition.

There are annually 11 "public holidays", and each of the days in question falls on a weekend on average two days each seven years. Cumulatively, that is four days every seven years, or the equivalent of just over half a holiday a year that those who work Monday to Friday could be said to be missing out on.

Superficially, it would appear hard to argue against the change.

Why should workers miss out on holidays just because they happen to coincide with a weekend?

How much grief would it really cause businesses for the days to be "Monday-ising" when it does not even occur every year?

But there is another way to look at the matter. Both days mark specific dates, and that is their point.

They were not set up to be holidays but rather for special New Zealand commemorations.

When they become just another reason for a holiday, they could be said to lose some of their impact.

Perhaps Waitangi Day, or New Zealand Day as it was briefly called, should be becoming more significant because the Treaty of Waitangi - which was slipping from relevance - has been thrust back into a central place in our laws and politics in the past 30 years. For most New Zealanders, however, Waitangi Day commemorations are ignored or even resented. For some it is a divisive "grievance day", leaving Waitangi Day unsuitable as a time of national pride and togetherness. Anzac Day, however, reinforces its place with each passing year in the hearts of this country.

Nothing should be done to undermine the solemn observance on the actual date of April 25, and most citizens at present have the chance to mark the day by being off work, either on a weekend day or on a paid day off work during the week.

Of course, it is all too easy to belittle the cost to business of having to pay staff for a relatively small total of additional holidays. Each extra holiday, according to Labour Department figures this month, costs businesses a total of $200 million.

What has also occurred is a steady accumulation of days off and therefore less productivity.

It was not that many years ago that staff did not even receive "alternative holidays" for working specifically Waitangi Day and Anzac Day, unlike for other statutory days. Subsequently, various provisions in the Holidays Act and the Employment Relations Act added to employers' costs in several different ways, all be they small individually.

Labour, the Greens, United Future and New Zealand First have already confirmed their support of the Bill, while Act's John Banks, is against, saying it will cost small businesses in particular. The Maori Party, which could hold the balance, does not yet have a policy. So, even if National does reject the Bill, it could still pass.

National is at present considering the matter, and, on balance, the time has come to support it. That could well be John Key's pragmatic approach. The actual days need not be "cheapened", as Cabinet minister Gerry Brownlee has said. At the same time, however, despite predicable howls of rage from certain quarters, the Government can proceed slowly, with incremental Labour law changes, to make life easier and less costly for New Zealand business.

 

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