Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Holidays Are Not Holy Days Anymore

Although we all know that we live in what is increasingly a 24/7 world, it is still quite a significant step to have TAB agencies announce that they will be open for business on Good Friday. Perhaps punters will be pleased that they will be able to relax at their local PubTab and make a few wagers on international events in Singapore and South Africa. They’ll even be able to place bets on the local NRL matches being played on that day. At the same time there is increasing pressure from some retailers to allow trading on Easter Sunday, with the argument even being put forward that it would be good for the economy and good for employees who stand to receive penalty payments at the same time. But aren’t we all missing something?

No doubt there will be a response from the religious community concerned that the spiritual significance of Easter is being overlooked and undermined. But it is probably true that good Christians will be doing something other than visit their local TAB on Good Friday, while those who are not religious, or have a different faith, probably have different priorities. Indeed, the question has been asked as to why those who are not religious should be denied the opportunity to follow their chosen pursuit, whether it is punting or shopping, just because there is a day of religious observance. In fact, Robert Nason from Tabcorp was quoted in the Telegraph as saying “All this is discretionary. People have a choice as to what they do on the day and how they wish to spend it. We are a multicultural society."

But wait a minute. Why are we having a public holiday in the first place? The Easter weekend is certainly a welcome break from the daily grind for Christians and Non-Christians alike. But the whole reason the holiday exists in the first place is because it is a day of religious observance. Those who ask why they can’t spend their public holiday in the TAB have completely overlooked the obvious question: “If you are not religious why are you taking a day off?” Of course, that is a rather extreme position, and of course so long as there is a public holiday, people are entitled to spend their time as they please.

So let’s ask instead, if the public holiday is no longer for the purpose of religious observance, what exactly is its purpose? Do we as a society cling to public holidays in order to provide a scattering of long weekends throughout the year? Is it so that people can have a break now and then? Is there an economic benefit in doing this? Or is there only a social benefit? If there is a benefit, is it worthwhile preserving, or is it outweighed by other considerations such as boosting the economy?

So long as more and more businesses, such as retail outlets and service businesses want to remain open for business on public holidays, obviously the more staff will be required to work on those days. As the trend continues, fewer people will actually get to have the day off, until eventually it could get to the point when businesses ask why they are paying penalty rates for special days that are no longer so special. If the TABs are going to be operating on Good Fridays how long will it be before governments cave in and allow race meetings to take place in Australia in order to give the TAB a justification for remaining open, and therefore requiring even more people to turn up for work?

Bit by bit we really are edging towards a 24/7 world that never lets up, and the risk is that we will lose a part of our way of life which is important to us. Public holidays may not be Holy anymore but most Australians would like to think that they are sacrosanct.

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