Monday, April 25, 2011

It may be time

Today, for the first time, I began to believe that it may be time to end the trading bans on 3½ days of the year. New Zealand is now a modern country in a different age from when the ban originated, and I’m beginning to think that the trading bans belong in the past, too.

When I first came to New Zealand and found out that most trading was banned on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day until 1pm, I thought it was quaint, an old-fashioned remnant of earlier times. I kind of liked the way New Zealand clung to a bit of its past in the midst of rapidly changing times.

I also agreed with those who argued that it protected workers from exploitation because many of them—especially in retail—would be compelled to work on those holidays. Saying that hours are negotiable is nonsense if you’re talking about a young minimum wage retail or fast food worker, for example.

I still worry about worker exploitation, but telling employers they must shut seems to me to be a gross over-reaction in the other direction, precluding all possibility of negotiation. Ultimately, I think the market should decide: If a community doesn’t want shops open on those banned days, they won’t shop, the business owner will take a financial beating and won’t do it again. But if they DO want to shop, why should the government forbid a business from meeting market—community—demands?

Back to workers. If those days were treated as ordinary public holidays and workers had the right to a day of in lieu, for example, that seems reasonable to me. I often hear unions say that workers require the force of law to protect them because they’d be exploited otherwise—a tacit admission about how weak and powerless unions are. Couldn’t this give them an opening to organise workers?

I also hear that all workers should have time with their families and loved ones, and I completely agree. But the government doesn’t mandate people do so. Also, what if a worker actually wants to work, for whatever reason? Do any of us have the right to forbid that because some other worker might possibly be exploited?

There is one other aspect that bothers me: Two of those days are Christian religious days with no secular significance. The government has no business fencing off one religion’s holy days, preventing the normal conduct of business for those who believe differently. Christmas is, arguably, now a secular holiday, and that argument may not apply to it.

Anzac Day is another matter. As it is now, people give up some of their public holiday to attend dawn parades and services later in the day. That wouldn’t stop if the day became a normal public holiday. Similarly, banning business in the morning doesn’t force people to attend observances or compel them to care about the day.

Today we went to the local mall for a few things and, like most people, had to fill time until the legally-permitted 1pm opening. We got there early and waited in the car. I noticed people crowded around every entrance—something I’ve never seen before. We got in the mall early (and the escalators leading in, pointedly, were off), but it was about 12:50 when we reached the place we were going, so we had to wait for the Appointed Hour. There was a Warehouse near where I was standing and at 1pm precisely the gates when up and a crowd—a hundred or so—moved to the entrance. Smaller numbers moved to other stores.

And this got me to thinking. If there was this much demand, the government should get out of the way. Yes, we must protect workers—I absolutely agree—but this is the 21st century now and times have changed. I think New Zealand must, too, and end the archaic trading bans.


Roger Owen Green said...

Well, it is quaint. Reminds me of the Blue Laws in the US that used to, and in some locales, still bans sales of certain items, especially liquor, on Sunday.

d said...

I agree (suprising, I know. ;) ). While I enjoy the days off, I do not think a largely secular country should have religious holidays - esp if it's one particular religion. I also noticed the stores were crazy on the two days they were open (esp grocery stores).