1491871325174 - Retail workers says opening on Easter Sunday robs them of a break

Retail workers says opening on Easter Sunday robs them of a break

Some shop workers are upset that changes to the Easter trading laws this year mean many of them will lose one of their few guaranteed days off in the year. In some areas, shops will be closed as usual on Easter Sunday because their council has decided against it, or not yet decided on the matter. But 25 councils have given individual shop owners the option to open or not, enabled by law changes last November.

While shoppers might find this confusing, some retail workers are equally unsettled.

READ MORE: * Easter trading rules to be handed to local councils * Easter Sunday – have you been asked to work?

Yvonne and Allan Pope in Motueka are both in retail and struggle to get a full weekend together.

Yvonne’s work includes Sunday, and Allan works a full week. He used to work half of Saturdays too “but I’m 69”.

While they now have Saturdays together, they have always looked forward to the compulsory break that Easter Sunday gave them. “It was one of those days you could rely on,” Allan Pope said.  The Popes’ day off is safe this year after the Tasman district rejected Easter Sunday trading, although nearby Marlborough has voted to allow it.

Unions have accused retailers of pushing to open on Easter Sunday because it is not a public holiday and they do not have to pay their staff extra or give them time in lieu. 

“It never had to be a public holiday because it was the Sabbath, Sunday, and neither was the Saturday, but that all changed when they decided to do Saturday trading,” Yvonne Pope said.

Losing Easter Sunday in many areas meant there were only two and a half days a year when most shops were forced to close – Christmas Day, Good Friday and the morning of Anzac Day. Regardless of whether people believed in religious holidays, she felt there was still merit in having days without shopping. “It’s just one day in the year we’re talking about … This might sound silly but we’re all saying quite strongly – next we’ll be working Christmas Day. They might not open till lunchtime, you might be able to undo your presents with your family, but there’ll be an expectation.”

Both Retail NZ and the unions have voiced criticism of the council-by-council approach to Easter trading, saying it will be confusing. 

Retail NZ pushed for a national Easter Sunday law change, while retail unions pushed against it.

Because the Sunday wasn’t a public holiday and there were no restrictions on cafes or other non-retail businesses, it seemed unfair to stop stores from opening, Retail NZ spokesman Greg Harford said.

People would shop online anyway. “We shop as a nation, that’s one of the things we do on a long weekend.”

But no one was saying all stores should be open on Easter Sunday and some would want a break, “just as they do on New Year’s Day or other days”.

Likewise, no worker could be compelled to work on Easter Sunday, although they would have to take paid leave or go without pay, as the public holiday fell on Easter Monday.

Pressure on employees to work could amount to a personal grievance. “I don’t think employers will typically be keen to put people out that don’t want to be there.”

But First Union organiser Maxine Gay feared many workers would still feel unspoken pressure to work if they were offered it or could not afford to pass it up.

She was relieved that some of the bigger retailers such as Farmers and Countdown were still compensating workers rostered on Easter Sunday if they chose not to work.

“But those are negotiated as part of the collective agreement with the union. The overwhelming majority of shop workers are not covered by unionised agreements. They’re in small scattered workplaces.”

She was sceptical about the argument that shopping had now become a major pastime, and fewer people observed religious holidays.

“If you used that logic, what’s so special about Good Friday … what’s so special about Christmas Day?

“We actually should be having a conversation around what kind of society do we want to live in. The importance of having days that aren’t governed by shopping are that it helps families and groups and whole sectors of society to come together and do things that don’t involve shopping.

“Retailers will often tell me that the amount of shopping that goes on leading up to Easter is phenomenal. It’s almost like a kind of fear – the shops might be shut on Sunday, we’d better go and get a tonne of food.

“But it’s shut Friday, open Saturday, shut Sunday open Monday. How flipping hard it that?”