By Peter Wilson
A Bill that allows councils to decide if shops can open on Easter Sunday has passed its first reading in the Parliament after a heated debate.
A conscience vote was allowed last night, with National, NZ First, ACT and United Future supporting the Bill, and Labour and the Greens opposed.
The Maori Party split its vote, one in favour and one against.
The count was 75 in favour and 45 opposed.
Workplace Relations Minister Michael Woodhouse said it was a pragmatic solution that gave local authorities and their communities the right to choose whether shops in their area should be allowed to open on Easter Sunday.
The Bill protects shop staff, who cannot be compelled to work and do not have to provide an explanation if they refuse.
"It's a balanced package, it gives choice to local authorities while providing protection for employees," Mr Woodhouse said.
The Bill affects Easter Sunday trading only. Good Friday, Anzac Day and Christmas Day shopping restrictions will remain.
Labour's Iain Lees-Galloway said the Bill was a shambles.
"This is a ridiculous, patchwork approach," he said.
"If you live in one town you might have to work; if you live in another one 10 kilometres away you won't."
Mr Lees-Galloway said the worker protection provision would not work, and he asked Mr Woodhouse what planet he lived on.
"He should spend some time with minimum wage workers at the beck and call of their employees," he said.
National MPs said Labour was out of touch with modern New Zealand and wanted to deny communities choice.
NZ First was also worried about worker protection.
Deputy leader Ron Mark said the party would support the Bill going to a select committee but was not guaranteeing to back it any further.
The Bill has been sent to the commerce select committee for public submissions.