Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter shopping

Easter is a four-day weekend in New Zealand, with public holidays on Friday and Monday, and bans on most trading on Friday and Sunday. Is it time for change?

Interestingly, the debate isn’t one of Right v. Left, since folks on both ends of the spectrum oppose change. For the right, it’s mainly about religion or tradition (or both), and for the left it’s mainly about exploitation of workers.

Yesterday, Stuff published a story about stores illegally trading on Good Friday and quoted one retailer who said opening in defiance of the law was “a victimless crime". One of my Leftist friends posted it to Facebook, commenting that in such cases workers are victims.

Retail workers are often victims: They’re more likely to be part-time, low-skill and easily replaced, all of which means that they have very little power in the employee/employer relationship. So, most retail workers can’t easily negotiate with their employers to take a public holiday off—but this powerlessness is equally true for any of the 361½ days a year when all stores may be open, so why is Easter weekend any different?

Enter the traditionalists who argue that it’s been this way for a long time and, in any case, workers deserve to have time off with their families. Both are true—but should they determine what public policy will be into the future?

What about people in an increasingly busy world who have no more time available than do retail workers? Should they be forbidden to do their shopping on 3½ days a year because it’s “tradition” or because retail workers are powerless?

Honestly, I don’t know the answer. In general, I’m sympathetic to workers, as well as to the argument that if people can’t do without shops for 3½ days a year, then they need to re-evaluate their lives. But is that any of government’s business?

For me, it’s not about the religious origins of three of those public holidays (Christmas Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday; the half day is ANZAC Day morning, which is not religious). Those days now have very little religious significance to most Kiwis, so the origins are kind of irrelevant.

Ultimately, I think that the Internet Age will make shopping restrictions irrelevant, too, when we order things online: It doesn’t matter if the shops are open or not, or whether we value religion or tradition.

Still, every year this debate comes up, and every year the malls are packed on Saturday (they were today) and on Monday. I also wrote about this way back in 2007, on the first Easter after I started this blog.

Still, there’s one thing that I definitely DO like about the 3½ days a year that shops are closed: There are no TV commercials (apart from promos for programmes). Actually, there are no TV commercials on Sunday mornings, either (also a hold over from the days in which religion mattered more), but I’m either not up or watching TV to take much notice of that.

Whatever the days are or should be or how they came to be or if that matters, they are, at the very least, a four-day holiday weekend. That, too, is a good thing, with or without shopping.


Roger Green said...

no commercials on Sunday a.m.? I'm in favor of that! I think NYS still bans the sale of alcohol before Sunday noon, but liquor stores now can be open Sunday p.m.

Arthur (AmeriNZ) said...

I probably shouldn't admit this, but I only found out about this a few years ago! In years past, I just assumed they hadn't sold ads for Sunday morning—and, in my defence, I have to add that it's not like I pay attention to TV ads under the best of circumstances, and certainly not in the morning when I'm still waking up.

Anyway, I only found out about it because some TV channel was fined for showing an ad on a Sunday morning during the airing for some international sporting thing (See? I don't even remember WHAT sporting event!).