Finally there has been some action on the out-dated retail laws that have forced the closure of most businesses over Easter in the past. The previous law stated that any ‘dairy, service station, cafe or restaurant, duty free store, real estate agent or pharmacy’ was allowed to be open for the two days considered the most religious – Good Friday and Easter Sunday. Everyone else had to close, or face stiff fines. (And who on earth decided that the services of a real estate agent were so important?)

After a ridiculous amount of indecision, the Shop Trading Hours Act of 1990 was finally amended in 2016, but instead of actually making a ruling, it was decided to let local councils decide what was to happen within their own jurisdiction. This has led to a situation where every area in New Zealand can now have different rules – and for such a small country this is ridiculous. Tourism New Zealand are particularly incensed about this, and Chief Executive Chris Roberts said “Our visitors move quickly between regions and finding shops open in some places and not others does not create the seamless experience that visitors are looking for and that the tourism industry wishes to deliver.”

Local councils are reacting in time honoured style – at the pace of a geriatric snail. Some mayors have fronted to media to say that this is not a priority for them – and only some councils have actually responded and passed by–laws. But even in these areas there is some serious confusion – you can now shop in Napier this coming Sunday, but not in neighbouring Hastings. In Taupo, the CBD will be open for business, but shops on the fringes of town won’t be. Tauranga won’t be open – but half an hour away Rotorua will be. In Nelson the city council decided that crafts could be sold on Easter Sunday when Founders Park is open – but failed to clarify if only shops within the park were covered under this rule, or all shops in Nelson selling crafts.

The proposed new laws have received a mixed reaction – the Catholic Church and ‘family first’ groups say that we all need three and a half days a year to put family, friends and community before the attractions of the shopping mall – and we would all agree that time spent with loved ones is an important part of our lives – but should we allow the church and local government tell us which days we have to spend doing this?

Our main supermarket chains have reacted with a cautious thumbs up – but are concerned with the difficulties of some branches being able to open, while neighbouring ones can’t. “As a national retailer we advocate for regulations that foster a level playing field for competition and are applied consistently across the country,” said Progressive spokesperson James Walker. It is more than likely that a situation will arise where ‘Supermarket A’ can’t open because of its location, but opposition ‘Supermarket B’ can open in the next suburb. Maybe this is the time to embrace online shopping, possibly the only way to ensure the business you want to purchase from is open and ready to take your cash (or at least your credit card numbers.)

The law today protects workers with a penal rate for statutory days of time and a half and an alternate holiday – equivalent to a pay rate two and a half times what they would normally earn. With the amendment to the Shop Trading Hours Act the ability to earn this extra cash can be taken away with a decision made by a group of councillors. If customers want to shop, and workers want to work – why should local council stop them?

While retailers across the country all hoped that the 2016 amendments to the Act would be forward thinking and give retailers the choice to do what was best for them, their business and their employees – it would appear we are possibly more confused than before.

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