A victory for New Zealand’s 270,000 retail workers and their families last night, with Parliament voting 62-59 to reject National MP Todd McClay’s Easter Sunday trading bill.
This debate has never been about observing a religious holiday as the neoliberals try to paint it, it’s about recognising that there should be times during the year when family and friends are able to get together without being forced to work. It’s about beating back the encroachment of capitalism into family life.
Individual workers simply don’t have the bargaining power to demand time off to spend with family if our bosses demand we show up to work. We don’t want the false freedom to be forced to work by our employers, we want the freedom to earn a decent living with time off to spend with our loved ones.
Margaret Dornan, a shop worker at Farmers and the vice-president of the NDU, puts it well:
‘You’ve only got 3 and 1/2 days a year when shops aren’t open. Speaking to other retail workers yesterday about this issue, they all asked when they were supposed to get some time off with their family, if shops opened over Easter.’
I also don’t buy the argument that because Taupo can open other centres should be allowed to open as well. If anything this just shows the folly of regional exemptions. The world won’t end because tourists can’t go shopping on Easter Sunday. It won’t stop them coming to New Zealand and it won’t send businesses to the wall. Believe it or not, the countries these tourists come here from have days when the shops close down, and they have a lot more of those days than we do.
In fact New Zealand has some of the most liberalised shop opening hours in the world. We can shop 361 and half days a year, 24 hours a day including 51 out of 52 Sundays and every public holiday except Good Friday, Christmas Day and until midday on Anzac Day.
The idea that these last few bastions of family time should be given over to the demands of commerce is just capitalism gone mad. Commerce exists to serve us, not the other way around. You’d think that after seven failed attempts to roll back Easter since 1996 they would have learned their lesson. Let’s hope this time’s the last.
[Labour’s Grant Robertson has the voting breakdown here. The bill was supported by most National MPs, all ACT MPs, Peter Dunne, one Labour MP (Steve Chadwick) and three Maori Party MPs (Turia, Sharples and Flavell – shame). The bill was opposed by all Labour MPs bar Chadwick, all Green MPs, Jim Anderton, eight National MPs and the Maori Party’s Rahui Katene. Hone didn’t vote as he’s still banished from Parliament.]