Story: Holidays

Page 2. Paid holidays

All images & media in this story

Statutory holidays

Legislation providing for paid holidays developed slowly. European settlers, arriving from 1840, introduced customary holidays such as Christmas and New Year. People (and often entire towns) would close their businesses or stop work for those days.

The Bank Holidays Act 1873 was the first holidays legislation, ruling that banks should shut on Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter Monday and the sovereign’s birthday – statutory public holidays that were added to over the following century. The same year the Employment of Females Act entitled women employees to at least four paid statutory holidays per year. The Factories Act 1891 extended this right to males under the age of 18.

Miners’ holidays

In 1902 coalminers at Blackball on the West Coast negotiated an award under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act, including holidays that would have seemed generous at the time: the period 24 December to 4 January exclusive, 17 March, Easter Monday, King’s Birthday, Labour Day and the Blackball sports day and picnic days.

Annual leave

Provision of paid holidays in addition to statutory holidays to groups of workers was piecemeal, depending on their collective bargaining power. Under the Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act 1894 registered unions could negotiate awards which entitled their members to certain numbers of paid holidays. Once the Public Service Association was formed in 1913 public servants received two weeks’ annual leave. But some workers, for example agricultural workers, remained disadvantaged for decades.

Holidays for all

The Annual Holidays Act 1944 granted the right to two weeks’ paid holiday to all employees. This was raised to three weeks in 1974 and four in 2007. Meanwhile some groups of workers negotiated even more days’ annual leave.

Sunshine Jan

By the 1930s January was synonymous with a break from routine, as this poem suggests:

I’m Sunshine Jan,
The vagabond man,
I’m tough and I’m rough
And I wear a tan,
And I don’t care a durn
For collar and tie,
I’m a beach-combin’
Real tough guy.
Wild Jan – that’s me!
I live in the open
And splash in the sea,
I eat my meals from a frying pan
And I wouldn’t exchange
With the richest man.1

Summer holidays

Two statutory holidays in close proximity at the height of summer provided a compelling reason to take a holiday between Christmas and New Year. From the 19th century some New Zealanders began to do this. In the 1860s gold miners customarily took a break at this time: the warden of the Coromandel goldfields granted two weeks’ special protection over claims, which meant that miners could leave them without fear of someone else moving in during their absence.

The school year ended before Christmas, and regional education boards usually decreed a summer holiday for children (and teachers) until late January or early February. In addition, the self-employed and wealthy could often afford to holiday at this time.

As paid annual leave became available to more workers, the tradition of taking a family holiday over Christmas and New Year grew. By the 1920s it was becoming common.

The Christmas close-down

The ‘Christmas close-down’ was institutionalised after the Annual Holidays Act 1944. Many workplaces began to close down completely during this period. According to the Labour Department in 1946, ‘it is recognised that such a practice affords an opportunity for a general clean-up of the premises and an overhaul of the machinery and plant’, and ‘except for the closing for a lengthy period of a number of restaurants and tea-rooms in some of the larger towns, little inconvenience was caused.’2

In the 2000s many government departments and companies continued to close during the Christmas and New Year period, but some businesses stayed open to take advantage of holidaymakers’ custom. People in essential jobs, such as hospital workers, had always been rostered to work during holidays.

  1. Ken Alexander, ‘Sun soaked’, New Zealand Railways Magazine 12, no. 11, (last accessed 4 April 2013). Back
  2. Report of the Department of Labour, Appendices to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1946, H-11, pp. 17–18. Back
How to cite this page:

Nancy Swarbrick, 'Holidays - Paid holidays', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 25 June 2024)

Story by Nancy Swarbrick, published 5 Sep 2013