Saturday, 2 January 2010

Public Holidays

Today is officially recognised as a Public Holiday in New Zealand. In this particular year, it doesn't matter much to most folk, because it falls on a weekend anyway. But it does matter to those whose job requires them to work, because the law of the land requires their employers to pay them at one-and-a-half times the usual hourly rate and also requires that they are allowed a day off in lieu at some later date. It matters to employers for the same reason.

I wonder how many countries have a public holiday on January 2, simply because it happens to be the day after the first day of the year. It doesn't happen across the ditch in Australia and I don't imagine it happens in too many other countries.

There are other public holidays which seem superfluous as well (although I have no problem with my employer being required to pay me for staying home). The Queen's Birthday holiday is celebrated on the nearest Monday to June 4, because June 4 was the birthday of one of QE2's uncles or great uncles (I think). Does anyone really care a toss, or consider it a significant date?

I would wager that most New Zealanders have no idea that October's Labour Day commemorates the introduction, at some time in the country's obscure past, of a universal eight hour working day (which, incidentally, hasn't been recognised for God knows how many years, either in law or common practice). My understanding is that in earlier days, working folk and their families flocked to communal picnics, organised by respective trade unions, on this holiday, but not many people living today would even remember that.

The founding of each respective New Zealand province is celebrated by a day off work for those in each province on a date unique to their place of domicile and is called Anniversary Day. Never mind that provincial government was abolished in this country more than a hundred years ago and there is no longer any clear definition of geographical provincial boundaries. In my "province" (Otago), Anniversary Day falls in April, so many employers, schools, etc tack it onto Easter weekend, making the officially designated date a curious phenomenon when some institutions are closed and some are not (likewise the Tuesday following Easter Monday).

And then there's Waitangi Day, which is just too complex and controversial to even try to explain!

My solution, which, sadly, is not going to happen because the present system of public holidays is firmly entrenched in Kiwi culture, is to abolish all of the aforementioned holidays, give every employee an extra week's annual leave to be taken at a time of their choice and add a week to school, college and university holidays. Business operators would be in favour as short weeks are not conducive to good business.


  1. Scotland has a public holiday Jan 2 for completely pragmatic reasons - that is that so many people used to be so terribly hung over after their Jan 1 that the Govt realised that the best thing was to give 'em the 2nd off as well.

    As for your 'solution' to public holidays, I disagree on two counts - firstly it is really nice to have everyone sharing the same day off, it's good for community and it those odd quiet days are good for the soul, and - short weeks are good for productivity.

    So what's this about Waitangi?

  2. Hello Simon

    Waitangi Day celebrates the 1841 signing by the Crown (Britain) and a number of indigenous New Zealand tribes (iwi), of the Treaty of Waitangi, which is is generally considered to be the founding document of New Zealand as a nation. However, it has always been controversial, mainly because of differing interpretations.

    In recent years commemorative celebrations have been held at Waitangi in the far north of the country (where the treaty was signed), but these celebrations have been disrupted many times by activists who see it as an opportunity to air deep-seated grievances. Meanwhile, the vast majority of New Zealanders are happy to have a day off work and go to the beach, the pub or the races.

    More on the Treaty of Waitangi here, for what it's worth: