Labouring over holiday cancellation
OPINION: Take any public holiday, and fault can be found with it.
Anniversary days celebrate provincial identities that mean very little any more, even on the sports field.
Queen’s Birthday is not even held on the monarch’s actual birthday, but on a day in Britain’s midsummer more likely to provide fine weather for the Trooping of the Colour.
Every year, we observe three holidays to commemorate the birth, death and resurrection of a deity worshipped by a shrinking ratio of New Zealanders. One could go on.
Anzac Day commemorates our history of military sacrifice. Yet there is a ritualised focus on Gallipoli, while other WW1 battles where New Zealanders made the supreme sacrifice go comparatively unmarked. Not to mention the relative lack of attention paid to New Zealand’s role in significant WWII battles such as El Alamein and Cassino.
All this is an indirect way of addressing the comments made last week by National Party leader Christopher Luxon. Because Matariki has been made a national holiday, Luxon claimed, an existing holiday needs to be abolished, so why not scrap Labour Day? Amid general incredulity, Luxon then walked back his comments.
In reality, of course, there is no set quota of holidays that must be kept in perpetual balance. To claim, as Luxon also did, that Matariki would cost business $450 million, was challenged by some, in that the calculation appeared to omit what holidaymakers spend on tourism activities and in retail outlets.
In any case, the same bookkeeping exercise could be applied to any holiday occasion. What’s the price of Easter? What’s the economic cost of shutting down and giving workers time off to celebrate the birth of Christ?
If public holidays do have a net cost, it is hard to see why Labour Day should be singled out as the prime offender.
Ultimately, of course, holidays are their own justification. They provide therapeutic relief from the grind of making a living. Plus, we’ve earned these holidays, and more. Compared to the OECD average, New Zealanders work longer hours, reportedly equivalent to 15 extra days at work each year. Cancel Labour Weekend and there would be no national holiday break during the 180 days between Matariki in late June, and Christmas.
Labour Day was created in 1890 to celebrate New Zealand’s achievement (50 years earlier) of the 40-hour working week. The fact that a centre-right politician should even fleetingly suggest the abolition of Labour weekend spoke volumes. In similar vein, Business New Zealand has opposed Fair Pay Agreements, on the grounds that wages would be likely to rise as a consequence!
Of late, politicians of every stripe have been claiming to feel compassion for families faced with the rising cost of living. Yet it is hard to find compassion in a stance that opposes higher wages, and a levelling of the workplace playing field. Nor is there much appreciation of history in the suggestion that we should stop celebrating the humane working conditions that earlier generations fought for and won.
In that respect, even thinking it would be a good idea to cancel Labour weekend ran the risk of looking like a desire to turn back the clock.