Timaru Herald 7 April 2015
Some retailers have been engaged over the past long weekend, as they are every Easter, in defying the country’s trading laws and exposing them as a joke.
These laws absurdly favour a few tourist towns with exemptions, ostensibly to keep tourists happy, and are riddled with anomalies. Retailers justify their defiance with self-serving talk about shoppers’ rights.
One garden centre manager last week said her company feels “it’s the customer’s option or right to choose if they want to shop”. But the law says no, just as it says no to customers who might like to exercise the option of sneaking off without paying.
The garden centre in question had been fined in the past for trading on Good Friday but last year it got no visits from government shop inspectors. This was the obvious consequence of ministerial advice to relax the policing regime: labour inspectors should spend less time enforcing Easter trading laws and more time dealing with the exploitation of migrant workers.
They should wait for complaints about shops breaching Easter rules, instead of going out to look for shops that should be shut. As a result, whereas 35 business owners were fined a total of $25,800 for breaching trading laws in 2011, just two businesses were fined a total of $1500 last year.
Retail NZ – not for the first time – is urging the Government to clean up this regulatory farce by changing the law. But politicians have been given a conscience vote on the issue and have voted against several liberalising bills in recent years. Presumably they are more sensitive to the strong opposition from church leaders and trade unions than the clamour for change from retailers and shoppers.
Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean is not among those sensitive souls, campaigning for liberalisation, and her Rangitata colleague, Jo Goodhew, has supported Easter trading in the past, and indicated she’d be likely to again. Dean’s Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal (Waitaki Easter Trading) Amendment Bill was voted down in 2012. She says allowing shops to open over Easter would help economic development in the regions.
Family First NZ national director Bob McCoskrie says Easter, Christmas and Anzac Day are the few times when the whole country takes a break and cited poll results showing firm support for leaving the law as it is. Laws accordingly should be maintained and enforced, he argued.
The politicians who agree should share McCoskrie’s concern that the trading prohibitions they favour are not being enforced. Otherwise they should step aside and let the reformers get on with modernisation.