A law change to give councils the right to allow shops to open on Easter Sunday could result in 67 different local authorities having 67 different sets of rules, Retail New Zealand has warned.
The association appeared before Parliament's commerce committee today - and was accused of wanting to steal Christmas after admitting it wants trading allowed on every day of the year.
Greg Harford, Retail NZ's general manager of public affairs, also lobbied for alcohol laws to be aligned with the proposed shop trading hour changes, which would allow beer and wine to be bought with groceries on Easter Sunday.
His main submission was to amend the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill - which would allow councils to pass bylaws to allow trading on Easter Sunday - to give shops the green light to open right across New Zealand.
The current law was full of bizarre anomalies, allowing some businesses in certain areas to open, and there was no enforcement by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (Mbie) anyway, he said.
The proposed changes could only increase confusion.
"We urge you to amend the bill to provide a single set of rules around the country which would in fact permit shops to trade, should they wish to do so," Mr Harford told the committee.
"If you have 67 different local authorities making 67 sets of rules, the confusion and the hassle factor will just get worse."
Retail NZ was particularly concerned that councils will be able to make rules for all or part of their district, and at the very least this should be scrapped.
"In Auckland, for example, the council might decide that shops on Queen St are able to open, and those in St Lukes are not. There could be any number of possible permutations which just don't make rational sense."
Retail NZ had estimated that the bylaw costs associated with the current bill would reach several millions of dollars every year.
Pressed by Labour MP David Cunliffe on whether there were any days in the year which he believed should be retail-free, Mr Harford said there were not.
"We ideally would like to see no restrictions on shop trading hours. But we don't think that most shops would be open on those hours," Mr Harford said.
"Retail NZ steals Christmas," Mr Cunliffe responded. "Thank you very much."
Earlier, Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand, the New Zealand Catholic Bishops' agency for justice, peace and development, appeared in opposition to the changes.
Lisa Beech, the organisation's advocacy and research manager, said analysis by officials on the potential impact of Easter Sunday trading had ignored how community events would be affected.
"These include church services, huis, school and family reunions, sports gatherings, local events and festivals. Resilient communities are made up of people who have a chance to get to know each other.
"Our primary concern is to protect vulnerable retail workers, who have long opposed and continue to oppose the extension of trading hours, along with many other low-paid workers who will inevitably be required to work if shops are open, such as cleaners and security guards."
Ms Beech said there weren't good enough protections in the bill to ensure workers could decline to work Easter Sunday, given other employment changes such as 90-day trials and zero-hours and other casual contracts.
Julianne Hickey, Caritas director, invited members of the committee to meet this coming Easter Sunday to discuss the group's concerns.
"We have plans with church, community and family on that day, but we are willing to sacrifice those plans, to help you understand the impact of having to work on Easter Sunday.
"If you are thinking of supporting this bill through to second reading, you need to understand what it feels like to be working, when others are enjoying time off."
In announcing the legislation last August, Workplace Relations and Safety Minister Michael Woodhouse said the current rules around shop trading over the Easter period are complex and relatively arbitrary.
The current law allows certain shops selling specific items to remain open, while others must close their doors. The law includes several historical exemptions which allow shops in areas such as Queenstown.
The fact that only changes to Easter Sunday would be proposed was because there was added religious and cultural significance attached to Good Friday, Anzac Day and Christmas, Mr Woodhouse said.
The first reading of the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill passed in a conscience vote 75 to 45.