After trying and almost failing to source some avocado on toast on Easter Friday, I realised I had absolutely no appreciation of the rules relating to public holidays. Would I survive Friday without my beloved bottle of Jam Shed Shiraz from various supermarkets? Would my thirst be thwarted for another three days? Let's look at the rules:
The rules in a nutshell
Under the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990, all retailers must close for three and a half days a year: Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday, and half of Anzac Day.
There are some exceptions. There are three types of shops that can continue trading: those that open with conditions and meet certain conditions; those that fall within an area exemption such as travel resorts in Taupō and Queenstown; and those that can open on Easter Sunday because their local respective council has adopted a trading policy.
Specifically, small grocery shops are good to go if the only things that are for sale include food, household, and personal items. Same goes for service stations, souvenir stores, restaurants, and cafes. Shops providing services such as hairdressers can open, provided no products are sold.
Pharmacies and real estate agencies can open without any conditions and interestingly real estate doesn't fit within the definition of goods as defined in the Act. Garden centres can open but they must be closed on Easter Sunday and the sole principal business must be the supply of plants.
Occupiers of shops found in breach of the rules may be liable for a fine of up to $1000. Trading restrictions don't extend to online services, interestingly.
Under the Sale of Liquor Act, liquor can't be sold or supplied at off-licences or establishments with tavern licences on Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Christmas Day, or before 1pm on Anzac Day. Selling alcohol is prohibited unless it's accompanied with a meal. In other words, you can visit a venue with a tavern licence "for the purpose of dining".
Restaurant licences are excluded and are free to sell you a wine without food.
Trains, planes and ferries have special licences that are excluded from the restrictions, so too are strip clubs, and any club that sells alcohol. Hotel bars are free to serve those at the hotel - as "any person who is for the time being living on the premises" is excluded from the restrictions.
The patchwork application of Sale of Liquor Act has received criticism, and it's of little surprise the Law Commission is reviewing it. A report is due in April.
Why no brunch?
So, I had a Saturday window of securing my beloved bottle of Jam Shed Shiraz at New World, but why, if cafes and restaurants could open, was it so hard to get my millennial brunch fix?
The positive spin is that retailers are aware of the demands of capitalism, and so it seems only fair that employees deserve a paid day of leave, like all nine-to-fivers.
Amendments were made to the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990 in 2016, which allowed for employees to refuse to work on Easter Sunday without any repercussions or excuse. Meaning, employers mightn't have the staff availability to open.
But a realist argument comes down to cost-benefit analysis. Under the Holidays Act, if a person is to work on a public holiday they'll be paid time and a half, and may get an alternative day off.
While surcharges may be introduced to offset the cost of paying staff higher wages, it may not be worth the financial headache for employers. Like most underdog situations, it's usually the most vulnerable workers - those on casual contracts - who might be strategically rostered off and have to literally pay the price.
For me and other nine-to-fivers, having to prepare my own avocado on toast at home - heaven forbid - seemed a small price to pay to enjoy a break from the daily grind. For small business owners and the hospitality industry, public holidays may be deemed to be another kick to the guts especially after bearing the brunt of the effects of Covid-19.
On an existential level, the rules are complex, increasingly bureaucratic, and it's particularly fascinating that we are slaves to these religious-holiday rules despite New Zealand being a secular state. Do things need to change? Like the patchwork of rules that dominate the public holiday framework, it will be a headache for any political party that decides to do so.