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Tuesday, September 08, 2020

NZ Labour proposes Matariki Holiday

Yesterday, the New Zealand Labour Party announced that if it wins the General Election next month it will create the country’s 12th public holiday, a winter holiday observing Matariki, the Māori New Year. This is an awesome idea, and well past time.

The holiday would begin in 2022 to allow businesses more time to recover from the economic effects of the Covid-19 pandemic. In the meantime, a panel of experts will determine the best time for the holiday, since Matariki itself can fall between late May and into June.

The Matariki Public Holiday will be a NZ-specific holidays, celebrating Māori culture, something that is unique in the world, and unlike many of the other public holidays. Being a winter holiday, it could encourage New Zealanders to visit places in New Zealand, generating money for travel, tourism, and hospitality businesses at what is normally a slow time of year.

This also creates the opportunity to create a winter festival around the public holiday, and that, combined with the Māori cultural aspects, also creates the opportunity to draw international tourists—once that’s possible again. Our winter is in the Northern Hemisphere’s summer, and that may be an additional draw for some tourists sick of hot summer weather.

Naturally, conservatives oppose the idea. They bleat on, as they always do, about the cost to business without ever considering the benefits, both from increased income for many businesses, and also from having happier employees. To far to many on the Right, workers are a nothing but a cost, and never a resource to be nurtured and cared for.

The Opposition, the NZ National Party, has dismissed the idea, though some of them have suggested trading another holiday for a new Matariki one, but somehow I doubt they’d suggest dropping the other winter public holiday, Queen’s Birthday, which isn't celebrated or observed, except fo the annual Honours List and retail sales.

The leader of the far-right self-styled libertarian-ish party got in trouble this week when remarks he made in 2018 resurfaced. Back then, he said that all public holidays were a sign of a “fascist state” (oh, the irony…) because “I don't think the Government needs to tell people when to have a holiday and when to celebrate things." He’s often derisively called “National’s 55th MP” because even though he technically “leads” a different “party”, he’s only in Parliament at all because the National Party gifts him one of their safe electorate seats. He and his mates in the National Party are in lockstep when it comes to promoting the myth that ordinary workers can “negotiate” with their employer over time off.

In fact, National recently proposed eliminating the requirement that businesses provide meal breaks to workers. Why would they do that? "National supports an approach where employees and employers are trusted to work employment matters out themselves in good faith." That’s one of the most hilarious things they’ve said in this campaign, because it’s seldom true when few workers are in unions and by without them or the support of the law, they’re at the mercy of employers who, they have to hope, really are people of “good faith”.

Meanwhile, Labour has moved to protect workers, repealing the anti-worker rules that the previous National Government put in place, in addition to reversing that government’s deep cuts to education and job training programmes. Labour has a strong record to run on, while the opposition parties are promising to make things worse for ordinary workers. Not a hard choice for ordinary working people, really.

It’s hard to see how promising another public holiday could fail to be a winner with ordinary people, and Stuff’s Luke Malpass noted that “most people don't own businesses and so are probably happy to have a new holiday.” He went on to note, though, that “in the current climate, ironically created by the Government, both debt and sacrifice are uppermost in people’s minds. How a holiday will fit into that remains to be seen.” He concludes: “It is however a bold and confident statement in what may otherwise prove to be a long and dour election campaign dominated by a disease.”

As popular as a new holiday may be, I don’t personally see it becoming a major issue in this campaign: The people who back it probably already back Labour or the Labour-led Government, while those dead set against it don’t. But with the opposition parties staking out unpopular positions when they don’t have to, effectively scoring political own-goals, there’s no way this proposal will hurt Labour. In fact, if anything the Right’s many own-goals suggest that Labour doesn’t even need it to help win the election.

Still, a week is a long time in politics, and our election isn’t until next month. I just don’t expect the opposition parties will suddenly start running positive campaigns, and that may turn out to make all the difference.

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