Proposed changes to Easter trading laws should be tweaked after widespread concern among councils about cost and legal risk, National MPs say.

The Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill would allow councils to pass bylaws to allow trading on Easter Sunday.

When the Government announced last August that rules would be changed, Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said the regulations were "complex and relatively arbitrary".

Historically, the law allowed some exemptions, which meant shops in tourist hotspots like Queenstown and Taupo were open, but not those in popular Wanaka and Rotorua. However, many businesses in those towns choose to open and risk prosecution.


MPs will cast a conscience vote on the Easter trading bill, but Labour's Workplace Relations spokesperson Iain Lees-Galloway said Labour MPs would vote against the proposed changes.

"Labour MPs are united in their opposition to the Government's moves to abrogate its duty to determine whether shops should be open over this holiday period.

"All councils that gave submissions on the Shop Trading Hours Amendment Bill were opposed to this law change. It will put extra costs and pressures on them."

In its report on the legislation, Parliament's Commerce Committee said the votes of its members were tied, and as such there was no agreement on whether the bill should be passed.

National Party members supported the bill's approach of allowing territorial authorities to decide whether they wanted Easter trading, and this approach provided a "pragmatic solution" to the controversial issue.

National members acknowledged widespread concern among councils that the bylaw process is costly and prescriptive, and involves legal risk.

They therefore recommended the bill be rewritten to adopt a local policy mechanism instead of the bylaw mechanism, which could give more flexibility and reduce legal risk, although local policies can still be legally challenged.

National committee members also wanted changes to clarify that employees had the right to refuse work on Easter Sunday. This included requiring employers to provide written notification of the right to refuse work, and requiring employees to respond to this in writing and within two weeks if they were not going to work.


Labour and Green Party committee members argued the change should be decided at a national level, and it was inappropriate to give councils the responsibility.

They also said the protections in the bill that would allow retail workers to decline work without negative consequences were unlikely to be effective: "A shop employee refusing to work or taking a personal grievance would inevitably have a detrimental effect on their employment relationship and could undermine their job security."

New Zealand First said it opposed the changes, and argued local elections can be used for a local referendum on whether to liberalise local trading hours further.

In its submission on the changes, Retail NZ supported trading on Easter Sunday, but said leaving the decision to councils could result in 67 local authorities having 67 sets of rules. The lobby group was particularly concerned that councils will be able to make rules for all or part of their district.