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Traditional public holidays under threat as NSW allows trading on Boxing Day

NEWS | Tess Holgate
Wednesday 2 December 2015

Traditional public holidays such as Boxing Day and Easter Sunday are under threat, and churches are uneasy about the changes.

The Harper Review, which looked at Australia’s competition regulations and was released earlier this year, recommended that restrictions on retail trading hours be removed or strictly limited to Christmas Day, Good Friday and the morning of ANZAC Day.

The Turnbull Government has accepted much of the review’s recommendations and Federal treasurer Scott Morrison has flagged the possibility of incentive payments to the states and territories aimed at encouraging pro-competition changes in several industries, including trading hours.

Meanwhile, the NSW Government fulfilled one of their election promises this month by announcing that all retail stores will be allowed to open on Boxing Day, while promising that Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC morning will remain off limits to trading.5727562231_cf3be37842_z

The decision to allow stores to open on Boxing Day was opposed by several religious leaders.

Anglican Archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies said in a letter to Parliamentary Member Fred Nile, “The proposal to permit trading in all shops on Boxing Day, and work behind closed doors on every day of the year would have a severe adverse impact on the families and the community of this State.

“We believe that allowing retailers to open on culturally significant days such as Boxing Day, or to have work behind closed doors on Christmas Day, Good Friday, Easter Day and before 1 pm on Anzac Day, is out of step with the needs and views of the community at large.

“All families and communities should be able to come together and celebrate culturally significant days – regardless of their religious beliefs and backgrounds.

Catholic Archbishop of Sydney echoed these sentiments, saying in a letter, “For many Australians the days affected by a lifting of restrictions are days where they would normally fulfil religious obligations, such as Christmas, Good Friday and Easter Sunday. They are also important family occasions.

“I am concerned that changes to the legislation would send the message that commerce is more important than religious observance and family time, and would effectively coerce workers to give up the little time still reserved in our community for such purposes.”

Bishop Anba Daniel of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Sydney and Affiliated Regions wrote of his “concern about the proposed legislative changes that could allow retail stores and centres to open for trade on a number of significant Christian holidays. I respectfully ask that your reverence oppose any changes to the retail trade legislation which could have impacts on families and religious observances.”

Responding to these concerns, NSW treasurer Gladys Berejiklian made an “ironclad, unequivocal guarantee” that Christmas, Good Friday, Easter Sunday and ANZAC Day trading restrictions would remain.

The lifting of the Boxing Day trading ban is accompanied by several conditions, including that employees must not be coerced to work on Boxing Day, and landlords must not compel shopkeepers to open their stores. Breaches of these conditions are punishable by large fines.

The amended law enabling shops to open on Boxing Day includes a sunset clause, meaning that after two years, the legislation will automatically lapse to how it was prior to the 2015 amendments.

Michael Walker, communications officer at the Shop Distributive & Allied Employees Association (SDA), says that no matter what the legislation says, there will not be enough people who freely choose to work Boxing Day.

“Workers aren’t in a very strong bargaining position, especially casual [workers]. They are always trying to stay in the employers good books,” says Michael.

He says that the two holidays of Christmas Day and Boxing Day are one of those rare times of year when family and friends who live in different parts of the state or country can travel and see each other.

“People don’t want to work on Boxing Day; they want to spend it with their families.”

NSW is the first state to pass legislation allowing all stores statewide to open on Boxing Day.

In most other states, only retail stores in metropolitan areas are allowed to open on any public holiday except Christmas Day, Good Friday and ANZAC morning.

In Victoria, Boxing Day is not a restricted trading day, with the only trading restrictions in force on Christmas Day, Good Friday and ANZAC morning. On those restricted days, only small stores (fewer than 20 employees) are allowed to open.

NSW treasurer Gladys Berejiklian has ruled out the possibility of NSW following in Victoria’s steps.

Image: Pitt St Mall, Emmett Anderson | Flickr, CC License

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