Is the Easter Sunday trading bill a retrograde step?

  • Opinion
  • September 1, 2015
  • Paul Keane
Is the Easter Sunday trading bill a retrograde step?

A week is a long time in politics, or for that matter, in retailing issues or property deals. The highlight of last week was the discussion around Easter trading - this is an annual debate, and certainly the foundation for talkback radio over many years. This year, the topic has been given new legs, with the government planning to introduce a bill that will set the scene for shops to open on Easter Sunday.

So is the observance of 3.5 days per year as "non-shopping days" now a thing of the past? It seems like that will soon be the case. When the government allows trading on Easter Sunday, this could release the brakes on Good Friday, Christmas Day and the morning of Anzac Day. Maybe in 10 years it will be open slather. So is this good or bad?

Retail NZ and its predecessor, the Retailers Association, has been promoting trading on these days for years. Some retailers want to trade. Generally retailers have accepted that the days observed were non-trading days, with just a few opening.

The worst offenders have been garden centres, who have willingly paid the miserly $1,000 fine, in favour of substantial sales. The irony is that when all retailers are permitted to open, the garden centres will just become part of the norm - they won't achieve more sales, as competition will remove that advantage.

Retail staff will also suffer, as professional retailers will have no annual respite, unlike other professional service groups such as lawyers and accountants. The major influence will of course be the shopping centre owners. Retail leases in shopping centres maintain a strict regime, in that the shopping centre managers dictate the shopping hours. We expect that many of these retailers will be forced to open, whether they like it or not.

So do we need to shop on these days? From a personal perspective I believe it is a retrograde step. Remaining closed for just 3.5 days annually gives us a point of difference. It demonstrates that we maintain a set of values that involve our wider community. What's wrong with that?

It remains a mystery as to why Retail NZ is so keen to support the theory of "open all hours" as being important. It's also ironic that towns such as Taupo and Mount Maunganui don't open for a full day's trading, despite them being able to. Where is the logic?

Finally on this subject, the Government intend to hand the responsibility for trading authority over to the local councils. This will simply exacerbate the issue as each area will have their own local view. Far from replacing the current laws which are "complex and relatively arbitrary", we could end up with something even more arbitrary.

An example may be retailers in New Plymouth being allowed to trade, but not retailers in Hawera. Regional squabbles are likely to develop based on preference. This will take years to settle down, but we suspect the handbrake has already been released and the floodgates will open!

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