Retail NZ's chief executive Mark Johnston on Easter trading hours

  • Opinion
  • April 2, 2015
  • Mark Johnston
Retail NZ's chief executive Mark Johnston on Easter trading hours

Having holidays is important to New Zealanders - and I believe that if employees don't want to work at Easter, or if businesses don't want to open, then they shouldn't have to.

The four-day Easter weekend contains two public holidays - Good Friday and Easter Monday - and two days - Good Friday and Easter Sunday - when most shops are prevented from opening.  But despite this, Easter is also a time when many people are likely to work, either because they are self-employed, they work in a service industry, or work in a shop in a part of the country where shops are allowed to open.  Those who have to work on public holidays will, of course, be paid time-and-a-half, and get a day off in lieu as compensation.

For many decades, shop trading hours were strictly regulated by the government.  Consumers were only permitted to shop at times that the government thought was appropriate. The idea of shopping on a Saturday afternoon was unheard of and you weren't allowed to go to the supermarket at night - because the government didn't think you should shop then. 

In 1980 Saturday trading was partly legalised and trading hours continued to expand until in 1989 the government passed legislation removing almost all of the restrictions on shopping hours.  With the exception of Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and the morning of ANZAC Day, shops now became free to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Given how different the world was then, this was a pretty radical move. In 1989, we were a much more restrictive society. Germany was still divided by the Berlin Wall, nobody had heard of the internet, there were no mobile phones, and we still had a government monopoly on TV broadcasting.  Many of today's shoppers were either not born, or still in kindergarten or at school. 

In the 26 years since then, consumers have had the benefits of greater convenience and choice as to when and how they shop – we haven’t looked back.

However, the restrictions that remain under current shop trading hours legislation are, in my opinion, flawed. Then there is the host of confusing local exemptions that make the restrictions almost meaningless.  Garden centres can open on Easter Sunday, but hardware stores that sell garden products are not allowed to unlock their doors.  Any shop is allowed to open in Queenstown or Taupo, but not in Wanaka or Auckland.  Shops in Tairua in the Coromandel are allowed to open on ANZAC Day morning - but only if ANZAC Day falls on a Friday or a Monday.   

At the same time, internet stores are free to trade as the legislation makes no reference whatsoever to online shopping.  This illogical absurdity means that you can place an online order at your local supermarket and the supermarket can have people working to process and pack your order - but the store itself is not allowed to sell items to you over the counter.

Shops are now allowed to open 24 hours nearly every day, but most do not.  This is because most customers don't want to hit the malls at 3am in the middle of the night, although a growing number of people do shop online in the wee small hours.

Likewise, customers and businesses should have a choice about whether or not they want to shop on Good Friday and Easter Monday. Shopping is a national pastime and increasingly a way in which families spend time together.   

Shops can already open in Taupo and Queenstown over Easter, but there are many customers in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch who also want to shop, and we think it's definitely now time to review the current restrictions.  

There should be no compulsion to open a shop - and employees shouldn't be obliged to work if they don't want to.  But in the 21st century, if customers want to shop and employees want to work, why does the government still ban most shops from opening?

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