Why aban­don a rare hol­i­day to com­mer­cial­ism?

The Timaru Herald - - COMMENT&OPINION - DEREK BUR­ROWS

The sub­mis­sions have closed and the Timaru District Coun­cil has de­cided it is de­sir­able that shops and busi­nesses be al­lowed to trade on Easter Sun­day.

The pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment passed this hot potato to lo­cal au­thor­i­ties to de­cide given the di­vi­sive na­ture of the pro­posal.

As a re­sult, the Timaru coun­cil opted to con­sider sub­mis­sions from the pub­lic be­fore de­cid­ing whether to en­act a lo­cal by­law al­low­ing trad­ing on Easter Sun­day. There was a hear­ing on Tues­day.

Reg­u­lar read­ers of this col­umn will prob­a­bly be only too well aware of my views on this topic as I have ex­pressed them sev­eral times.

So, to re­luc­tantly re­peat my­self, I find it in­cred­i­ble there are peo­ple (mainly busi­nesses, it has to be said) clam­our­ing to fur­ther erode the very few pub­lic hol­i­days left on which shops are re­quired to re­main closed.

In fact, hav­ing Easter Sun­day fall vic­tim to lat­ter-day shop­ping ma­nia means we will be left with only Good Fri­day, Christ­mas Day and the morn­ing of An­zac Day still un­sul­lied by com­mer­cial­ism - and you can be cer­tain these bas­tions will then soon come un­der in­creas­ing pres­sure too.

In fact, sure enough, one of the sub­mit­ters to the coun­cil on the is­sue ar­gued that ‘‘clos­ing down the coun­try on two days out of four at Easter is mad­ness’’. He added that in Scot­land and parts of the English Mid­lands Good Fri­day was al­ready ‘‘a nor­mal work­ing day’’.

Sorry, but what is ‘‘mad­ness’’, as the sub­mit­ter put it, is that we are al­ready left with only three-anda-half days out of 365 when busi­nesses are re­quired to stay closed and work­ers are guar­an­teed time off.

And that is the crux of my ob­jec­tion to any fur­ther ero­sion of our pub­lic hol­i­days. How long will it be be­fore the few re­main­ing days when em­ploy­ees can be guar­an­teed time off to spend with their fam­i­lies will fall vic­tim to the ob­ses­sion with shop­ping?

Yes, the law does pro­vide for em­ploy­ees to refuse to work on those statu­tory days if they so wish but we all know that in these days of frag­ile work­ers’ rights - ze­ro­hours con­tracts and the 90-day rule spring read­ily to mind – many peo­ple may well feel re­luc­tant to test their em­ployer’s pa­tience by re­fus­ing to work.

And it should be noted that us­ing the UK as an ex­am­ple to fol­low is not, to my mind, a good idea. The United Kingdom has the fewest pub­lic hol­i­days in Europe – just eight com­pared to 14 in Spain and Malta and 15 in Cyprus and Slo­vakia - and only Mex­ico world­wide has fewer.

Even the Demo­cratic Repub­lic of Congo, widely re­garded as the most im­pov­er­ished na­tion on earth, has nine pub­lic hol­i­days

Let me make it plain I am not ob­ject­ing to the ex­ten­sion of trad­ing hours from a re­li­gious per­spec­tive, al­though sev­eral churches have quite rightly voiced their con­cern at the pro­posal. My ob­jec­tion is purely that is to­tally un­nec­es­sary for any fur­ther in­cur­sions to be made into our lim­ited num­ber of pub­lic hol­i­days.

They are, af­ter all, sup­posed to be hol­i­days and if busi­nesses are al­lowed to open on those days that it’s far from a hol­i­day for a size­able seg­ment of the pop­u­la­tion. In­deed, the clam­our for more shop­ping hours un­doubt­edly comes from ei­ther busi­ness own­ers or those peo­ple who will NOT be work­ing when shops are granted ad­di­tional open­ing hours.

I don’t buy into the ar­gu­ment that we need to be open for busi­ness to cater for tourists to our re­gion. Timaru is not Queen­stown and even if we did at­tract large num­bers of vis­i­tors to South Can­ter­bury that doesn’t make it in­cum­bent on us to give up our pre­cious pub­lic hol­i­days.

Con­trary to pop­u­lar be­lief over­seas tourists do not nec­es­sar­ily ex­pect us to do that. All over the world there are plenty of other na­tions that close their doors on pub­lic hol­i­days and vis­i­tors from those coun­tries just have to ac­cept that.

And, fi­nally, for those who are so ad­dicted to shop­ping that they can­not kick the habit for just a few days in the year, there is still an out­let for them – just shop on­line. That way no one has to give up their pre­cious day off.

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