Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Special days should not be cheapened

Brian Rudman. Photo / Natalie Slade
Brian Rudman. Photo / Natalie Slade

Who said the Labour Party was out of touch with its working class roots? First caucus after the long Christmas holidays and what was top of the agenda? A private member's bill to ensure workers get an extra holiday, if a public holiday falls over the weekend.

Under the Holidays Act, workers are entitled to 11 official public holidays, but this year, as last, we will get only nine days off work. Last year, because both Waitangi Day and Anzac Day fell in the weekend, this year, because the former is on a Sunday, and Anzac Day doubles up with Easter Monday.

Apparently this sort of thing happens two out of every seven years, and until now, the workers have suffered in silence, but no more. "We don't think that is fair," says MP Grant Robertson, "and I will be introducing a private member's bill to make sure workers get the break they deserve."

Conceding that "Anzac Day and Waitangi Day are of great importance [and] it is important that we continue to commemorate the days on the 6th of February and 25th of April," he argues New Zealanders "deserve" the "fair go" of an extra day off work as well.

Not surprisingly, there's widespread public support for the proposal. If our masters are dangling the promise of a couple of extra days' holiday at someone else's expense, who in their right mind is going to turn it down?

But for once, I agree with the Returned and Service's Association's policy of having just one Anzac Day. April 25 was the day in 1915 the Anzacs went ashore in the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. There are, of course, those who argue we should really leave our commemorations until early August, to mark the brief victory Kiwi troops had at Chunuk Bair, but either way, the special impact of Anzac Day for nearly 100 years, is that it is held on the actual day - and with the dawn parades - the time of day that the landings took place. To have two days - one of remembrance, the other because we reckon we're owed it, cheapens the day and the experience.

Perhaps if Mr Robertson's extra day was one where recipients pledged to do a day of public voluntary service, laying, if not our lives, at least our sweat and time on the line for a day of sacrifice for the public good, then fair enough.

Anzac Day, in effect, is the only universally accepted holy day, in the old sense, among the 11 listed in the Holidays Act. Several of the rest, in this post-Christian age, though linked to the major events in the church calendar, are now just paid days off for most of us. Conveniently for the workers, the two Easter ones have been Fridayised and Mondayised by the church anyway. But a marriage of convenience between the trade unions and the churches, ensures a continuing fiasco about what you can and can't do on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.

In the past 20 years, at least 11 attempts by private member's bills to rationalise and secularise the Easter trading laws have failed to get support from either Labour or National. So on public holiday Good Friday, about all you can do - unless you live in a specially registered tourist trap - is go to church, which the vast majority of us have no desire to do. As for Waitangi Day, that to, if we're serious about setting aside a day to contemplate and celebrate our national beginnings, deserves to be held on the actual day the first signatures were attached to the Treaty of Waitangi.

The problem with Waitangi Day as a public holiday, is not that workers miss out on an extra holiday every now and again because of the vagaries of the calendar, it's that no one's taken it by the scruff of the neck and turned it into a proper day of celebration.

Instead, it's become the day the Harawira family and friends come out to play. Will Titewhai make the prime minister cry. Or will she hold his/her hand this year. It's become the Good Friday of the secular year, when all the sins of the world are dropped on the shoulders of the Pakeha and we are expected to be duly penitential.

If Labour wants to make changes to Waitangi Day, it shouldn't Mondayise it, it should cheer it up. Indeed at Waitangi proper, it is a fun day once the politicians stop posturing before the television cameras. The last time I was there, there was a bustling waterfront market, an amateur sports day, waka racing, some speechifying and all in all, a holiday atmosphere.

If Mr Robertson wants to improve Waitangi Day, spreading that mood nationwide would be a good way to start. If he wants to give us all another public holiday, there's always Matariki, the Maori New Year. As a time to celebrate, it already has a good head of steam, with events annually held up and down the country. And as different tribes celebrate at different times in mid- to late-June, the problem of its landing on a weekend can be avoided.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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