Monday, August 24, 2015

Making Easter trading someone else's problem

The Easter Sunday trading ban is an absurd law, a relic of past Christian oppression. Every couple of years some National backbencher notices this, and puts up a bill to repeal it. These bills invariably fail because they fail to sufficiently protect workers from being forced to work on a long weekend, while being opposed by National's bigot rump. And the obvious solution - make Easter Sunday a public holiday - is opposed by the sorts of people who oppose the trading ban as a) religious and b) "anti-business" (because people forced to work would be entitled to time and a half plus a day in lieu).

But now National has a new solution: wash their hands of the issue and make it someone else's problem:

The Government is to enable local communities, through councils, to decide whether retailers can open on Easter Sunday, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse announced today.

“The current rules around shop trading over the Easter period are complex and relatively arbitrary. The law allows certain shops selling specific items to remain open, while others must close their doors.

“The proposed law change will enable communities to choose whether or not to allow trading. It will mean regions, especially tourist areas, can respond where there is strong demand for Easter Sunday trading,” Mr Woodhouse says.

Except that if the problem is arbitrariness, this doesn't solve it at all, merely makes it the responsibility of councils rather than central government. It is simply political sleight of hand, to make it seem like they have done something when they have not. And of councils really do make their own decisions, then we will still have the current patchwork where shops in some places can trade while others can not. Meanwhile, the equally arbitrary and absurd prohibitions against trading on other Christian holidays (and on Anzac Day), and on alcohol sales and TV advertising, will remain. Which means that while you may be able to shop, you won't be able to buy a coffee if your favourite cafe has a liquor licence.

As for their supposed "protection" of workers who want their long weekend, given their other changes to employment law (not to mention the existence of 90-day "trial periods"), these are simply toothless. All in all, it looks like a bad political fix.

Supposedly this won't be a conscience vote for National. I'd love to know how they got that past their bigot rump, and what ructions it might cause.