Why are shops on Parnell Road allowed to open on Easter Sunday? It’s all thanks to an obsolete rule from the 1970s that’s been ‘frozen in time’.
Under our current trading laws, most stores are required to stay closed on Good Friday and Easter Sunday (along with a couple of other holidays, like Christmas and Anzac morning). That includes supermarkets, malls and pretty much everywhere else.
But as with any rule, there are some exceptions. While the Good Friday rules are pretty clear – almost everything must be closed – it’s Easter Sunday where things get more complex. That’s because Easter Sunday is a restricted trading day, but not a public holiday, meaning it’s up to regional councils to dictate what can and cannot open.
Take Auckland, for example. On the council website, there is a list of exceptions to the Easter Sunday rule. It includes the likes of service stations, dairies, takeaway food outlets and… “shops on Parnell Road”.
The council website states that stores along the inner city stretch are allowed to be open from 10am to 6pm. Why? It’s a slightly unusual story.
Cheryl Adamson from the Parnell Business Association explains that the exemption was applied for by the owners of Parnell Village, which was established in the 1970s. It wasn’t formally extended to all shops on the street until 1989. That means for the past 34 years, Parnell’s main road has been a shopping oasis when other parts of the city were forced to close.
Parnell isn’t the only very specific area that is able to bypass New Zealand’s historic trading rules. A list of exempt places published by the Herald also includes Market Place in Hamilton, Harbour Market in Napier and Richmond Court in Thames. Other broader exemptions are also listed. For example, presumably due to its popularity with overseas visitors, all of Paihia is exempt on Good Friday, Easter Sunday and Anzac Day. Nelson, too, is free to open – but only “whenever Founders Park is open” and only to sell “crafts”.
What all of these exemptions have in common is that they were first implemented in the 1980s – but are still being adhered to in 2023, despite later law changes.
A rule ‘frozen in time’
David Milne, a labour inspector from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment says the exemptions date back to a now-repealed piece of legislation from 1977 called the Shop Trading Hours Act. “[It] provided for a Shop Trading Hours Commission to hear applications for area exemptions. This was disestablished on 1 August 1990 when the 1977 Act was repealed in favour of the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990,” he explains. “The area exemptions in force at the time the 1990 Act took effect, such as Parnell Road, were frozen in time. They still apply but there has been no mechanism to update them or mechanism to apply for new exemptions since 1990.”
Employment lawyer Sam Houliston says the exemptions were granted to retailers so they could open for tourists, explaining why places like Paihia, Taupō and Queenstown were totally excluded from the regulations – and still are to this day. Not much changed until 2016, says Houliston, when an amendment was made to the 1990 Act, which provided a new mechanism for local councils to create Easter Sunday shop trading policies which allow shops to open within their own districts.
“The conditions that can be adopted are broad, but a policy cannot be put in place without the council undertaking a special consultative procedure,” Houliston says. “This requires the council to develop a proposal, make it publicly available and provide for interested persons to give a view on the proposal. There’s no ability for an individual retailer to apply for an exemption – the retailer needs to fall within the conditions of the policy.”
In short, that means that any new exemptions have to apply more broadly and couldn’t be implemented for just a set of shops. It’s why, for example, places like Upper Hutt and Gisborne will be open on Easter Sunday – though it’s up to shop employees whether they actually want to work or not.
The Parnell Road exemption aside, Auckland does not currently have an Easter Sunday shop trading policy “so retailers that want to open need to ensure they won’t run afoul of the rules in the Shop Trading Hours Act 1990,” says Houliston.
A “modest” fine of up to $1,000 can be doled out for each breach of the rules.
The argument for change
Critics of the existing Easter trading rules say they are out of date and have no place in the 21st century. The Act Party launched a member’s bill last year calling for shops to be given the option of opening over Easter with no penalty. “That’s how a free society should operate,” the party’s small business spokesperson Chris Baillie said at the time. But a few months later, the bill failed to pass.
Party leader David Seymour says that the current rules are “archaic” and have no place in a “modern and pluralistic society” – but as the MP for Epsom, he’s OK with Parnell Road being “exempted from this particular piece of lunacy”.
“I’d also point out that it hasn’t done Parnell any harm – far from it – and maybe it’s time to extend this common sense to the rest of New Zealand,” Seymour says.
“It doesn’t take away from some people’s faith and celebration of Easter that others can go shopping or have a drink… New Zealand is so different from what it was in the 1970s. Today there are a range of people who come to New Zealand who have a range of views and beliefs and it seems strange we’re still practising as though it’s 1973.”
Those on the other side of the debate, including former Auckland mayor Phil Goff, say workers should be promised a few days a year that aren’t “commercialised”.
Unless, of course, you work on Parnell Road.