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David Miller Online: Why Not Open At Easter?

Believe it or not, but I have been a long time supporter of the trading restrictions that are imposed on businesses on the designated public holidays. The basis for this point of view is that I believe people should be entitled to time off work during the year and I can see no point in forcing people to work Christmas Day or Good Friday. I am amused by those who call for an end to statutory holidays. Their argument is that the status quo hinders this country’s economic development. Nonsense. They are in a position to make such statements and are highly unlikely to be the first people through the door of the office on Christmas Day. This country is certainly not hindered by the current restrictions. However, they could be altered to make them fair to all, especially at Easter.

The increased number of businesses that have been charged with flouting Easter trading laws this year demonstrates that more businesses are prepared to open over the holiday and incur the one thousand dollar fine. So often it is garden centres that are in the middle of this ongoing debate, however they can open on Easter Sunday. This year they only accounted for half of those businesses fined, whereas in the past that figure had been as high as two thirds. It is becoming apparent that other businesses wish to trade.

As well as this, the public are showing a greater willingness to shop and make the most of their time off over the Easter period. What this says to me is that there is an obvious demand for retail outlets to be open, including Good Friday. If people were not spending their money or wanting to shop during the holiday there would be no incentive for retailers to open and incur the penalty.

So how can a balance be achieved? For a start, there should be room for those who wish to open their doors over Easter to do so, irrespective of the day or its significance to a dwindling minority. If a retailer, such as a garden centre, wishes to open its doors on Good Friday or Easter Sunday and they can find people willing to work then they should be allowed to do so. One reason so many people do not wish to see a change in the law is that for many people a statutory holiday is a welcome and much needed break and I include myself in this category. I personally welcome the Easter break. However if I worked in retail and my employer decided that the business would open then I should be allowed to exercise my right to work or stay home.

I also find it strange that entertainment is almost banned over the Easter period. It was absurd that at midnight on Thursday and Saturday virtually the entire city closed down and that entertainment is not among those businesses exempt from the law. To me it makes no sense that a restaurant can open its doors but a bar cannot. Once again I am not in favour of forcing businesses to open or their staff into work on a holiday but the option should be there for them. My flatmate is a good example of this. He has a policy of working statutory holidays for nothing else except the benefits it brings such as an increased pay rate on Easter Monday. His theory is that no one should deny him the opportunity to earn good money. He also likes the fact that he is given the opportunity not to go to work. To him this represents a fair system.

When people read this column I hope they can understand my point of view. I am in favour of maintaining Christmas Day, Anzac Day, Good Friday and Easter Sunday as statutory holidays and I am not in favour of forcing people to work on those days. A complete change to this law will not help the economic progress of our country at all, in fact it will only further deepen the political and social divides that already exist. However the option to open, on Easter at least, should be there. If a business is willing to open and prepared to reward its staff accordingly then there is no reason why it should not be allowed.

It is unlikely that the laws governing Easter trading will be changed. Any government that makes the decision to alter the laws would soon realise that their days in office are numbered. People should be allowed to the time to themselves over Easter, however they should also be given the opportunity to work and trade as that would be fair. Until then all I can ask for is a widening of those businesses that are exempt from the law. If we are going to allow tourist operations to trade surely entertainment can be as well. After all, why have a holiday if we can not truly enjoy it?

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