Boxing Day trade is a step closer to becoming a permanent fixture in the Hunter.
But retail workers fear it will rob them of time with family and friends in the Christmas holiday period.
A bill to allow Boxing Day trade across the state got a second reading in NSW Parliament on Tuesday afternoon.
It comes after a two-year trial of the change.
Treasurer Dominic Perrottet said amendments to the Retail Trading Act “allowed all shops and bank branches to open on Boxing Day on the condition that staff freely elected to work without being coerced, harassed, threatened or intimidated”.
“Those reforms gave all parties more choice,” he told Parliament.
“Business owners can now choose to open and reap the benefits of their trade, or they can choose to keep their store closed and spend Boxing Day with family and friends.”
However, the retail workers’ union – SDA – says employees will lose valuable family time in the summer holiday season.
Sandra Turnbull works at a Newcastle discount department store and has been a retail employee for 12 years.
She told Fairfax Media that she worked last Boxing Day because she felt that she had to, after several other staff members requested the day off.
Ms Turnbull said she worked most public holidays and feared the change meant it was only a matter of time before trade was allowed on the rare remaining public holidays that retail employees got off.
“I was asked if I wanted to work Boxing Day a few times over a few days and each time I said ‘we’ll see’ and it eventuated that they had no-one else who could run the department,” she said.
“I was asked again if I might be able to do it, so I agreed. I felt pressured because they had no-one else that they could put on.
“It’s going to have a huge impact on workers – especially workers who have families. I also have children who work in retail and they have also been pressured into working Boxing Day. We just don’t get any time together.”
Hunter Business Chamber CEO Bob Hawes said the legislation was a positive step.
“The Hunter Business Chamber supports retailers having an option of opening their doors on one of the biggest trading days of the year, provided mechanisms are in place to protect employee choices,” he said.
“It is important that businesses, large and small in this region have the same opportunity to trade on Boxing Day as those in other regional and metro areas otherwise we are just encouraging people to leave the area and spend their money elsewhere.”
SDA Newcastle and Northern Branch secretary Barbara Nebart said the legislation was bitterly disappointing.
Ms Nebart said workers were urging politicians to reject the legislation.
“This is far from done and dusted,” she said.
“Our politicians still have a chance to save Christmas, and retail workers from around the Hunter will be urging them to do so.”
Debera Mackenzie, deputy chair of business advocacy group Newcastle Now, said the legislation was excellent news for the region’s retailers.
“Business owners don’t have to trade if they don’t want to and, generally speaking, employees are given the option of whether they want to work,” she said.
A report by the Retail Council – the body representing retailers – that was published in March recommended Boxing Day trade be made permanent across the state.
“Retail Council members, operating across NSW, universally report that the two-year trial has been a success for their business, for their employees and for their customers,” the report noted.