Easter Sunday may become a regular trading day for New Zealand shops and businesses depending on the outcome of the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill. However, it seems to be causing more confusion than ever.

The Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill (the "Bill") was introduced to Parliament in October 2015. The purpose of the Bill is "to allow the statutory restrictions on shops opening on Easter Sunday to be removed by granting the territorial authorities the power to create bylaws to permit all shops to open in all or part of their districts on Easter Sunday".

Territorial authorities would be required to each carry out a special consultative procedure in order to establish bylaws in the respective territory regarding Easter trading hours (i.e. whether shops are permitted to be open or not).

To mitigate the impact on workers who wish to keep Easter weekend as a holiday, the Bill would also allow shop workers to refuse to work the Easter Sunday without being required to provide any reason. The Bill would amend the Shop Trading Hours Act Repeal Act 1990.

The government has received a multitude of submissions on the Bill from various stakeholders including local councils and organisations from the retail and tourism industries. A common theme throughout the submissions is that providing for a territory-by-territory approach (as currently drafted) the Bill will lead to further confusion country-wide, both for store owners and patrons alike, as well as significantly impacting budgets of local authorities.

In its submission, the Christchurch City Council noted that a special consultative procedure can cost the council between $12-25,000, and therefore "assuming a figure of $15,000 for a special consultative procedure on the issue, and multiplying this by 67 territorial and unitary authorities results in a figure of over $1m for consultation on this one issue" (which is to be repeated every five years).

The costs associated with requiring each of the 67 authorities to go through the consultative process to pass its own bylaws, along with inherent confusion for both businesses and consumers on where and which shops will be open on Easter Sunday seems to outweigh any benefits proposed by the Bill. Tourism Industry Association NZ in particular argued that the inconsistency of shops being open in some places but then closed in others will be confusing for visitors who tend to move quickly between regions in New Zealand.

The general consensus in reaction to the proposed Bill is that this is a matter that is best decided upon at the national level, limiting costs and providing consistency and certainty in the law for business owners throughout New Zealand.

Despite the overwhelming number of submissions received earlier this year being unsupportive of the Bill in its current form, the Select Committee failed to make any changes to the first draft, and in June 2016 the Bill passed its second reading.

The Bill is now being considered by the Committee of the Whole House before its third reading. We will have to wait and watch this space...

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