Much like social services and good wages, our public holidays have also been a target for the political right.
Last month, the National and ACT parties attacked the passage of the Matariki Public Holiday Bill which gives New Zealanders another day to rest from work.
Both right-wing parties were critical of this new public holiday’s cost to businesses: with ACT’s Chris Baillie highlighting its alleged cost to businesses, while National leader Christopher Luxon said his party was supportive of this public holiday if it replaced an existing one.
Never mind that New Zealanders are among those who work the longest hours in the OECD, or that a recent report showed our workforce burnout is at an all-time high, the two parties beholden to capital insist that Kiwis do not deserve a break.
It only makes sense, after all National and ACT rake in hefty donations from private businesses hence why they do their best to protect their interests.
But the two parties’ contempt for workers go even further than just denying them another public holiday, they also want to take from the current number of days off that New Zealand workers already enjoy.
This month, ACT MP Chris Baillie’s member’s bill – Repeal of Good Friday and Easter Sunday as Restricted Trading Days – was pulled from the ballot. It aims to remove restrictions of businesses wanting to open during the Easter holiday.
Baillie used the frequently regurgitated messaging used by right-wingers of how pitiful small businesses have to “suffer” from being made to close shops on Good Friday and Easter Sunday.
But does everything have to be measured monetary figures? What about the health benefits we get when we disconnect from our work phones or be able to catch-up on sleep we’ve deprived ourselves of due to early shifts?
There is great value in de-stressing from our hectic work lives and having the chance to spend time with family and other loved ones. Our mood improves and we are more rested, thereby boosting our productivity once we have to return to work.
Baillie does include a caveat in his, saying that it “has workers in mind as it retains the existing employee protections that apply in respect of Easter Sunday and extends these protections to Good Friday.”
Talk about the bare minimum.
In short, employees may refuse to work during Good Friday or Easter Sunday even if this bill passes into law but New Zealand law already gives workers the right to refuse to work on a public holiday (with the exception of those working in essential services).
Hence, Baillie’s footnote for workers offers nothing new.
Even if workers did have the right to refuse, anyone who has worked in retail or hospitality can attest how managers can pressure you to work even if you do not wish to.
If your more senior colleagues have all refused to work and you’re the most junior staff, do you really have the absolute freedom to say no?
The only way we can ensure every employee can have peace of mind and shut off from work is through a mandatory public holiday, such as that afforded by the Easter trading laws, which the ACT Party is now threatening to repeal.
Although there is little chance for the bill to pass considering the Labour Party’s stance on Easter trading, this bill is the latest episode in the right’s relentless attack on our right to have a break from work.
If they argue that employers should be able to decide when they can or cannot open, then what’s to stop them from allowing businesses to open on Christmas Day or even ANZAC Day too?
Kiwi workers work real, bloody hard. They deserve a break.