To shop or not to shop… the question of Easter Sunday


For as long as I can remember, there have been arguments about whether shops should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday.  In the 1980s, the Government removed almost all restrictions on shop trading hours – but also removed the ability to grant new exemptions from the remaining rules.  Over the years, this has created real pressures in the market, as some shoppers have wanted to shop at Easter; and retailers covered by an exemption had a clear advantage over others.

Last year, the Government moved to allow Councils to make decisions on local policies as to whether shops in each district and city should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday.  We would have preferred a consistent and permissive national approach that allowed retailers to open their doors – but only if they wanted to.  This is in line with our principles of providing maximum opportunities for retailers to deliver great shopping experiences for New Zealanders; and minimising red tape and compliance requirements that get in the way of retailing.

We certainly don’t advocate that every store should be open on Easter Sunday – but we do think that in the 21st century, it’s not the Government’s place to decide whether businesses should open, workers should work, or shoppers should shop.  This isn’t the Soviet Union, and we think these decisions are best made by the individuals concerned.

Some have been concerned that shops, especially those in malls, will be forced to open by their landlords, and that staff will be forced to work against their will.  In fact, there are real protections built into the legislation.  No business can be forced to open – even if your lease agreement says the mall can determine your hours, it can’t force you to open on Easter Sunday.  Equally, no employee can be forced to work on Easter Sunday.  So, if you and/ or your employees would rather spend your day in Church, you have that choice.

At the time of writing, about a third of all Councils have either considered, or are in the process of considering, local Easter Sunday trading policies.  The interesting thing is that momentum is on the side of change, with most Councils proposing and adopting liberal trading policies.  This isn’t about forcing stores to open, or forcing people to shop.  It is simply about putting the choices where they belong – and allowing businesses to make their own calls, based on owner’s views, employee needs, and customer demand.  I don’t think the world will end on Easter Sunday this year if more shops are open than usual, but it will be increasingly common over time.


  1. You are only allowed to open your shop if your Council has made a policy allowing you to do so, or you are covered by an exemption under the old legislation.
  2. Nobody (including landlords) can force you to open if you don’t want to.
  3. You can’t force your shop employees to work on Easter Sunday.
  4. If you want your shop employees to work, you must give them special notice about their rights to refuse work between 8 weeks and 4 weeks ahead of Easter Sunday.


Still got questions? Check out our Easter Sunday Trading Guide.

By Greg Harford, General Manager, Public Affairs.

Image Copyright: micchaelpuche / 123RF Stock Photo

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