27 May 2024

Lapsed policies on Easter Sunday trading meant businesses risked prosecution

5:52 pm on 27 May 2024
The city centre is full of tourists.

Queenstown is one of six areas in the country where councils intended to allow trading on Easter Sunday. Photo: RNZ / Marika Khabazi

Six district councils that adopted policies to allow trading on Easter Sunday had let them lapse before this year's public holiday, putting some businesses at risk of enforcement action.

A law change in 2016 gave local councils the option to set their own rules for trading on Easter Sunday, on the condition the policy was reviewed within five years of being adopted. If a review didn't take place, the policies would be revoked after another two years.

Queenstown Lakes, Westland, Grey, Wairoa, Kawerau and Ōpōtiki district councils all adopted local Easter Sunday shop trading policies but had not reviewed them within the specified timeframe, for various reasons, so they were revoked ahead of Easter.

ACT MP Cameron Luxton said in some cases, councils had let the policies lapse unwittingly, so traders had been at risk of breaking the law. He said the confusion showed there was a clear need for reform.

"There's a super complicated amount of regulations over Easter weekend - four days and four different sets of rules."

Last month, a private member's bill by Luxton proposing to repeal Good Friday and Easter Sunday as restricted trading days was drawn from the ballot.

ACT party MP Cameron Luxton in select committee.

Cameron Luxton's private member's bill would standardise the rules around the country. Photo: VNP / Phil Smith

He said it would make things simpler over Easter by allowing businesses around the country to choose for themselves whether they wished to trade or not.

"What this bill will do is provide clarity for New Zealanders on how they spend their Easter weekend, so we don't end up, every Easter, every business in the country trying to figure out what the rules are."

He said councils that adopted policies had taken the initiative to enable more liberal trading over Easter weekend, but it had resulted in "a complicated patchwork of rules" that even local councils themselves could not keep up with.

"A lot of businesses who thought they could trade over Easter ended up getting a rude surprise that it might not be the case."

He said no-one was being well served by the law as it stood.

Both the Queenstown Lakes and Westland District Council's adopted Easter Sunday trading policies in 2017 that lapsed before Easter this year. Both said they were awaiting the outcome of the members bill before taking further action.

A Queenstown Lakes District Council spokesperson said central government had signalled an intention to review the Shop Trading Hours Act, which would likely change council jurisdiction regarding Easter Sunday trading.

"Hence, Queenstown Lakes District Council is deferring any review of the most recent policy, or creation of a new one, until quarter three of this year to see whether the matter has progressed at a national level.

"If it hasn't, we would expect to begin the process then."

Westland District Council's regulatory, planning, and community services group manager Te Aroha Cook said if the member's bill was not supported, council might initiate the process to consult on a new policy, should there be an approach to do so from Westland businesses not permitted to trade on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

Grey District Council said its policy lapsed before Easter this year, due to an oversight by the council, while the Ōpōtiki District Council's policy also lapsed ahead of the public holiday as it was not able to be reviewed and readopted in time to take effect, but would be completed in time for Easter 2025.

Wairoa District Council's policy also lapsed in March, with plans for it to be reviewed before the end of the year.

Kawerau District Council's policy lapsed in February and communications and engagement manager Tania Humberstone said it would be reviewed later this year to confirm whether council wish to re-instate it.

"This affects very few businesses in Kawerau, as many of our businesses that open on the weekend, can do so under the current provisions of the act."

Labour Inspectorate northern regional manager David Milne said it had not received any public complaints relating to trading on Easter Sunday and therefore, it was not considering any "proportional enforcement response".

Marlborough District Council was one of those that adopted an Easter Sunday shop trading policy in 2017 and economic, community and support services manager Dean Heiford said it was to give those in the region more flexibility.

The Mk14 Spitfire out on the grounds ahead of the 2023 Classic Fighters Omaka Airshow.

The Omaka Airshow is among reasons Marlborough Council sought changes to Easter trading. Photo: Facebook / Yealands Classic Fighters Omaka

"Every other Easter we have the Omaka Airshow where we have thousands of people coming to Marlborough, and also we are a tourist town. Our community reflected upon that and were happy to have [Easter] Sunday trading."

Heiford said the policy expired just after Easter this year and the council would review it again ahead of next year but the private member's bill would deal with some of the issues people faced across the country when it came to trading on Easter Sunday.

"It puts traders in an invidious position where they are technically breaking the law if they open. We want to support our business community but we also want to support our community in terms of having a break and recognising various religious beliefs and the importance of family so it is just getting the balance right."

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