Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Rugby stars lobby against Easter trading changes

Former All Black Michael Jones says the Government should not be interfering in Easter Sunday. Photo: Jason Oxenham
Former All Black Michael Jones says the Government should not be interfering in Easter Sunday. Photo: Jason Oxenham

Two former All Blacks are putting pressure on Pacific Island MPs to vote against law changes which will allow shops to open on Easter Sunday.

Former rugby stars Michael Jones and Aiolupotea Tonu'u said today that the law change could harm Pacific workers who had obligations to their churches and families on the religious holiday.

They are appealing directly to Pacific MPs in Parliament to cast their vote against the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill when it returns to Parliament.

The bill will give councils the power to pass bylaws to allow trading on Easter Sunday.

It narrowly passed another hurdle this week, 62 votes to 59 votes.

MPs cast a personal vote, rather than voting along party lines, because of the religious aspect of the legislation.

Two Pacific MPs - National's Sam Lotu-Iiga and Alfred Ngaro - voted in support. If they switched their votes, the legislation would fail.

Jones is a devout Christian who refused to play rugby on Sundays. He also has links to the National Party.

However, he was critical of the National-led Government for "interfering with Easter Sunday".

In a statement released today, Jones said it was an important day in the Christian calendar.

"But if the Government's reforms go ahead many New Zealanders will miss out on the opportunity to spend Easter Sunday with their church, their communities and their families," he said.

Tonu'u said people who worked in industries like retail could find themselves rostered to work over Easter.

"This is going to harm Pacific people who have obligations to their churches, communities and families on Easter Sunday."

The two men said New Zealanders were only guaranteed three and half days off work each year that should be protected.

"Our community don't want the Government interfering with Easter Sunday," they said. "We want to keep Sunday special".

The statement by the two former All Blacks was issued by the Labour Party's Pacific chairman Jerome Mika.

Labour's five Pacific MPs - Su'a William Sio, Jenny Salesa, Carmel Sepuloni, Kris Faafoi and Poto Williams - all voted against the bill.

Ngaro defended his vote, saying that protections had been built into the law which allowed employees to cite religious grounds for taking the day off.

The ultimate decision on whether shops stayed open was up to local authorities, he said, and communities could choose to keep them closed.

Ngaro said he had not had a single voter raise the issue with him.

"I have not had one phone call, not had anyone come to my office, not had an email.

"Jones is a good friend of mine, actually, and obviously a supporter of the National Party. But I haven't had a call from him."

- NZ Herald

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