The National-led majority in Parliament passed the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Act 2016 last August at the behest of the big retailers. The law change allows local councils to adopt Easter Sunday trading. This is another step in the erosion of public holidays. There were already a host of exemptions that allowed cafés, fast-food and tourist-related businesses to open on Easter Sunday. Previously, shop workers were guaranteed to have just 3 of the public holidays off work: Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Where a council permits Easter Sunday trading, shop workers are within their rights to refuse to work, but in reality few would risk the ire of their employer.
Councils proposing to adopt Easter Sunday trading must formally consult the public through the submissions process. The major city councils have not attempted the adoption of Easter Sunday trading in time for this year, although early adoption is being pushed by big retail. Starting this month, Auckland Council is undertaking a public consultation on the issue. In August the Council will decide whether to go ahead with the formal procedure with a view to a decision in time for Easter 2018.
A host of small and medium-sized councils have rushed to get Easter Sunday trading through for this Easter. I attended the meeting of Porirua City Council on 5 April that decided whether adopt the measure.
Two-thirds of the submitters were against the proposition. The First Union’s submission included a petition signed by hundreds of shop workers and their family members. First Union delegates and officials addressed the meeting powerfully, as did others.
The pro-trading submitters included Retail New Zealand and the Chamber of Commerce. Reading the pro-trading submissions, I noticed that a number of them used anti-religion in support of their reactionary arguments for commercial pursuit. So often I find that being on the side of workers and the oppressed means being alongside religious believers and opposition to bourgeois secularists.
Porirua City Council voted 6 to 3 for no change. A victory, but I don’t doubt that the retailers will push for another attempt for 2018.