Thursday, December 10, 2009

Shopping on Easter

New Zealand has three and a half days in which shops in most of the country must be closed: Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day and Anzac Day morning. Last night, Parliament held a conscience vote on liberalising trading on Easter somewhat, and it lost 59 for to 62 against. Every time attempts have been made to open up trading at Easter, it’s been beaten back.

There are some problems with the current law: Shops in certain designated tourist areas—some tourist areas, not all—can open, as can some other business that sell services, not goods. For example, a video store can rent you movies, but can’t sell you any. A beauty parlour could do your hair, but couldn’t sell you shampoo. In practice, most businesses close for those three and a half days.

The right has long demanded that the trading bans be abolished. They argue that whether a person works on those holidays should be a matter negotiated between workers and the business owner. I think that’s typical muddle-headed conservative thinking: The power relationship for retail workers almost always favours the employer. That means that a retail worker ordered to work on these days would have two choices: Comply or quit.

That’s fine with the right, who have this Pollyanna-like view of what the labour market is like for lower paid workers (perhaps because they themselves are not at that level). The reality for many of these workers is that they’d have no choice but to comply with their employer’s demands.

Clearly the right thinks it isn’t any of the government’s concern, and if lower-paid workers suffer because of a change to trading laws, well, tough. Labour unions and the left are adamant that workers should be protected from exploitation, and they support maintaining the existing ban.

Personally, I think if we can’t go three and a half days without buying stuff, then there’s something seriously wrong with us. I also see nothing wrong with government protecting workers, especially lower paid workers, from exploitation. If the right really believes that this is an infringement on the rights of business owners, let them make that case to the voters of New Zealand and enlist their support in a change. Right now, they clearly don’t have it.

How they voted:

Among Government MPs, all but nine of the National Party’s 58 MPs voted for the Bill; voting against it were Shane Ardern (Taranaki-King Country), Chester Borrows (Whanganui), Bill English (Clutha-Southland ), Phil Heatley (Whangarei), Sam Lotu-Iiga (Maungakiekie), Tim Macindoe (Hamilton West), Eric Roy (Invercargill), Katrina Shanks (List), Jonathan Young (New Plymouth). All five Act Party MPs voted in favour of the bill. United Future’s Peter Dunne voted in favour. Maori Party Co-leaders Tariana Turia and Pita Sharples voted in favour, as did party MP Te Ururoa Flavell, while Rahui Katene voted against (Hone Harawira didn't vote).

Among the Opposition, all 43 Labour Party MPs voted against the bill, except for Steve Chadwick (she’s from Rotorua, which would’ve benefited from the change). All nine Greens voted against the bill. Jim Anderton of the Progressive Party also voted against the bill.


Unknown said...

It is interesting to see that all the National MPs except one were electorate MPs and all of them cover a more small town / rural base.

I do have to wonder why it is so essential for shops to be open 24 x 7. The even bigger problem not just for employees is also the small shop owner who can be forced to open on these days especially if they are in a major shopping centre.

Arthur Schenck said...

I'm not sure what the story is with the National MPs, apart from Sam Lotu-Iiga, whose electorate (Maungakiekie) is normally an Auckland Labour electorate. If he was to have any chance at all of retaining the seat—which will probably be a big ask—he couldn't vote against the position the unions were taking.

I suspect—though I don't know—that Bill English voted against it because, as a conservative and ardent Roman Catholic he wouldn't be in favour if easing trading restrictions on Easter. I frankly don't know enough about the others—well, anything, really—to be able to make any guesses.

This particular bill would have helped Rotorua, which isn't treated as a tourist area (and that strikes me as REALLY weird!). That's why Labour's Steve Chadwick voted in favour of it when the rest of the Labour caucus voted against it.

Like you, I don't see why it's essential to have shopping available every single day of the year. But you raise an important point—the affect that opening up holiday trading has on other businesses. I could see how they could be caught between not being able to afford to open and not being able to afford being closed.