Another Easter weekend has passed and New Zealand businesses, particularly supermarkets and retail grocery stores, had to wade through complex, discriminatory and frankly outdated trading law legislation. Members of Parliament acknowledge this yet nothing has been done to address the issue for another year.
Michael Woodhouse, Minister for Workplace Relations, noted “even in my home city of Dunedin an exemption exists for trading in the Carnegie Centre in Moray Place, but ‘Only Arts, Crafts, Children’s Toys and Books (toys and books sold only while performances happening on the mezzanine floor)’. I think it is a very good example of an arbitrary and outdated exemption regime.” The current legislation discriminates between types of shops (though garden centres take great glee in flouting the rules) and different geographical areas.
In August 2015 the Minister announced legislation to improve the laws governing trading on Easter Sunday (only). It seemed promising until the details of his proposed Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill became apparent.
NARGON has long supported the modernisation of New Zealand’s shop trading hours to reflect the modern, multi-cultural country we are today. The Minister’s proposed solution would make the situation infinitely worse.
The key flaw is that legislation gives local authorities the authority to choose whether shops in their area should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday. Furthermore, every council can designate different trading laws for specific areas within their territory. Minister Woodhouse said this is a “pragmatic solution.” Leading the Opposition in Parliament, Labour MP Iain Lees-Galloway described it as a “ridiculous patchwork approach.”
Lees-Galloway is absolutely correct. He is also correct that it will create “a mishmash of rules and regulations across the country”, that trading laws are “not local government’s responsibility” and that “every single territorial authority in New Zealand is now going to have to go through a full consultation process, spending millions in the process.”
NARGON believes there should be clear central rules regarding trading hours based on freedom of choice for businesses and freedom of choice for employees. In the latter regard, the proposed legislation rightly enshrines the right of employees to refuse to work on Easter Sunday without adverse consequences.
During the Parliamentary debate on the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill in November 2015, National’s Brett Hudson argued “we believe in choice. We believe that customers should have the choice to go and shop when they want. We believe that businesses should have choice whether they want to actually serve their customers… This bill will offer just that.” That is sadly not the case. Under the legislation local councils would make those choices for consumers and businesses.
Green List MP Denise Roche calculated “this is the 10th attempt since 1996 to liberalise Easter Sunday trading hours” which reflects the controversy around the issue. While the bill passed its first reading 75 votes to 45, NARGON believes it will make the already dire situation worse. The Government needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with robust, uniform reform.
By Trina Snow, Executive Director, Nargon