A community organisation in New Zealand is suggesting that allowances should be considered for Muslims to be able to transfer the Christmas public holidays to their religious days.
Muslims have to take up to four days’ annual leave to celebrate religious days like Eid-al-Fitr says Anwar Ghani, the president of the Federation of Islamic Associations. Dr Ghani wants to discuss religious holidays as part of the Government’s constitutional review. The review, announced in December 2010 at the Maori Party’s request, will take up to three years to be complete.
“It would be really a lot nicer if we had the provision to substitute one or two days of the other holidays so that we can, without sacrificing the annual leave, enjoy the festivities and feel that we have been included in the provisions of leave,” Dr Ghani told Radio New Zealand. He also assured that the Muslim community does not want to complicate the system.
The changes would have to be “simple and workable” he told the Sunday Star-Times. “If there was recognition, particularly from a faith perspective, to substitute the holidays so they can enjoy the festivities without taking their annual leave, those are the kind of things which we were looking at,” he told the weekend newspaper.
“It has to be something simple which is going to work â€“ we do not want to create layers of complications that might make it difficult as a nation for us to progress together.”
Nearly 200 ethnic groups call New Zealand home and the government set up the ministry of ethnic affairs in 1999 to represent the population “whose ethnic heritage distinguishes them from the majority in New Zealand, and from MÄori and Pacific peoples,” says the office of ethnic affairs.
The size of Asian population in New Zealand has increased from 3% in 1991 to 9% in 2006 and is projected to become 15% by 2026. Almost half the people affiliating with Hindu and Muslim religions arrived in New Zealand less than five years ago.
Between 2001 and 2006, the number of Muslims in New Zealand has grown from 23,631 to 36, 072. Nearly 162,000 New Zealanders follow a religion other than Christianity (Hindu, Muslim, Sikh or Budhists), while a third of New Zealanders (35%) have no religion.
Making cultural and business provisions for such Â diverse communities is proving to be a challenge for policymakers.
The department of ethnic affairs, which costs taxpayers $6.143 million a year, has advised the incoming minister of ethnic affairs, that ethnic communities are keen to discuss the development of a multicultural policy “to entrench the civil, political, social and language rights of ethnic people in New Zealand.
“The potential for multicultural policy, including legislation, is gaining voice within ethnic communities, and is likely to be raised with you.”
In its briefing paper for the new minister, Â the office suggested that there was an opportunity for New Zealand to “maximise its share of the highly profitable global Halal tourism market.
The office has already started facilitating a discussion among industry leaders and “further work is proposed to progress this initiative in 2012.”
“Halal tourism incorporates activities and services that are in keeping with Islamic law,” says the briefing paper.
The office is also keen to develop the potential of ethnic small and medium size businesses (SME), and will publish a report on ethnic SMEs including a database that connects businesses across the Asia Pacific region, thereby increasing trade opportunities for New Zealand.
And China is a major trade destination. New Zealand was the first, and is still the only Western economy, that has a free trade agreement with China. The FTA came into effect in 2008 and has boosted the trade.
Prime Minister John Key says that the country is on track to doubling its two-way trade with China to $20 billion by 2015.
The strength of the relationship with China is underpinned by the Chinese community in New Zealand, which numbers more than 147,000 and is growing, says Key.
However, not everyone is as excited about embracing cultural diversity and making changes to policy and legislation to accommodate cultural and religious practices.
The minister is cautious, for a start. “This briefing does not reflect government policy,” Collins told the weekend newspaper. “It is not a policy document.”
Many are concerned about the suggestion to swap holidays. It may open a “huge can of worms by swapping/changing public holiday dates” says one poster in an online community forum Grown Ups. “Have you given any thought for the employers regarding this that has a mix of religious workers that they may have….swapping staff, having extra days for holiday purposes, paying those individuals on their nominated days off. What about other religions/nationalities? Will they want to get in on the band wagon too?”
However, the office of ethnic affairs believes that “this type of debate will become more common” asÂ New Zealand becomes more diverse. “We encourage people or communities who have issues they wish to raise with the government to do so through established channels such as making submissions to Select Committees.”
Director of the Office of Ethnic Affairs, Dr Mervin Singham, says that this year the Constitutional Review will be seeking feedback from the public about the shape of New Zealandâ€™s constitutional arrangements. “We are working with ethnic people to ensure they are aware they can participate in the process. It is during this process that ideas about multiculturalism may be raised.”
Should New Zealand embrace multicultural policy?
“There have been articles on whether New Zealand should have a multicultural policy such as that which has been established inÂ CanadaÂ andÂ AustraliaÂ for many years.
One of the strongest proponents is the moderateÂ New ZealandÂ Federation of Multicultural CouncilsÂ (NZFMC), which has been advocating for such a policy since at leastÂ 2008, inÂ 2009Â and more recently inÂ 2011.Â TheÂ NZFMCÂ is one of New Zealandâ€™s oldest ethnic associations and is the largest pan-ethnic association with around 20 councils in New Zealand.”
Dr Mervin Singham,Â Director, Office of Ethnic Affairs,Â Department of Internal Affairs, New Zealand