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Here we go again, say retail workers

Media release: FIRST Union
Friday December 23, 2011

Here we go again, say retail workers

As Christmas Day approaches, one of only 3 and ½ days of guaranteed time-off for retail workers, a shop worker says she is gutted that she will again have to fight off attempts to take away family time at Easter for workers in her industry.

Parliament this week passed a motion reinstating business from the previous term of Parliament. Otago MP Jacqui Dean’s Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Waitaki Easter Trading) Amendment Bill was among them.

Margaret Dornan, president of FIRST Union, and a worker at a retail chain store in Wellington, said that retail workers were sick and tired of attempts to destroy the traditional Easter period.

Margaret said that it was a sense of ‘here we go again’ for retail workers, after 8 failed attempts in Parliament in recent years to open shops at Easter. She said although Jacqui Dean’s bill related to Otago, MPs in other areas also want to liberalise Easter trading laws too.

She questioned why money and profit should be put before family time and religious observance.

“The bigger businesses will stay open to make money, so it particularly affects workers in the big retail chains. If the mall owner wants shops to open, their shop will have to open and retail workers can be called on to work.”

“If shops were allowed to open on Easter Sunday, workers who are contracted to work on a Sunday would be expected to work.”

FIRST Union Retail Secretary Maxine Gay said New Zealand’s shopping laws were already among the most deregulated in the world.
“New Zealanders can shop on 361 and ½ days a year. We can shop on 51 of 52 Sundays of the year.”

“Easter is one of the few guaranteed times that retail workers can have off, to take part in family, community and religious activities.”

“Despite Jacqui Dean saying that her bill is about choice and that shops aren’t being forced to open, our retail members say this is not a real choice in practise. Shops in large malls are required to open at all times as part of the mall owners’ lease arrangements.”

Maxine Gay said shop workers would again link up with community groups and churches to protect family time at Easter.

FIRST Union represents 28,000 workers including 11,000 in retail.


The National Distribution Union and Finsec joined forces on October 1 to form New Zealand’s newest union – FIRST. The union represents 28,000 people working in Finance, Industrial (Textile and Wood) Retail, Stores & Transport. http://firstunion.org.nz

Background note: Easter Trading

Retail workers oppose an extension of trading at Easter
• Shops (with only a few exceptions) are open 361 and ½ days a year. Retail workers are expected to be available during these days.
• Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and the morning of Anzac Day are the only days affected by shop trading restrictions.
• Liberalising shop trading laws has been voted on in Parliament 8 times since 1996. Parliament has voted down every Bill. Recent attempts include Todd McClay (2009), Steve Chadwick (2007) and an earlier Bill from Jacqui Dean (2007).
• Easter is one of the few times that retail workers get to see family and friends and go to reunions, jubilees and other events. Many community events are planned around Easter.
• Commerce should not be put before family time at Easter. We already work much longer hours than workers in other OECD countries and enjoy fewer public holidays, and one fifth of workers are putting in 50 hours or week or more.

Doesn’t the law protect people’s right not to work?
• Despite assurances workers and employers must agree for a worker to be rostered on, our members say this is not a real right in practise. Even experienced retail workers who know their rights find it hard to say no to working on a busy day and don’t want to let the team down.
• Although Good Friday is, Easter Sunday is not a public holiday. Workers will not get any compensation (e.g. time in lieu) for working. Easter Sunday would become an ordinary working day for retail workers.

The retail workforce
• 267,000 New Zealanders work in retail (Dept. of Labour, 2009). More still are employed in related industries like transport and logistics.
• Mostly their work is paid at or only moderately above the minimum wage. Almost all are required to work during weekends (without extra pay), and their hours can be changed at short notice.
• Most workers could be called on to work on any of a shop’s opening days, especially the busiest days - weekends and public holidays.

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