Christian Democratic Party MLC Fred Nile and Gerard Dwyer of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association at a rally outside the NSW Parliament on Wednesday.

Christian Democratic Party MLC Fred Nile and Gerard Dwyer of the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association at a rally outside the NSW Parliament on Wednesday. Photo: Anna Patty

A holy row is building over shopping on public holidays in NSW.

Ministers of religion and union leaders are asking Premier Barry O'Farrell to guarantee that retail trading hours won't be extended to include Good Friday, Easter Sunday, Boxing Day and Anzac Day.

The economic case has not been made for opening trade on Easter Sunday. We can have good post-Christmas sales on December 27. 

"This is about the freedom of families to spend time together," said Reverend Keith Garner of the Wesley Mission. "We are only talking about four and a half days that we want to preserve."

Hundreds of retail and warehouse workers rallied at Australian Technology Park on Wednesday as part of the "Take the Time" campaign to improve work/life balance.

Meanwhile, ministers from the Anglican, Catholic, Uniting and Baptist churches and representatives of Wesley Mission and the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association signed an open letter to Premier Barry O'Farrell, which they presented to Christian Democrats leader Fred Nile.

Mr Nile addressed the delegation outside NSW Parliament on Wednesday. He said he was committed to opposing the state government plans to extend trading hours to Boxing Day, saying it could eventually lead to further extensions, including Easter Sunday.

But Treasurer Mike Baird said he is committed to extending retail trading hours to include Boxing Day, to bring NSW in line with other states such as Victoria.

“It makes no sense that around a third of the state can trade on Boxing Day following exemptions for 'tourist trading precincts' approved by previous governments, but the rest cannot," he said.

“The modernisation of retail trading laws in NSW is well overdue."

Gerard Dwyer, NSW branch secretary for the Shop Distributive and Allied Employees Association, said workers are concerned that the federal government is considering seeking an agreement to introduce uniform trading hours across the country.

"At the core of these public holidays are people's families and friends," he said. "The economic case has not been made for opening trade on Easter Sunday. We can have good post-Christmas sales on December 27."

Reverend Keith Garner, the chief executive officer of the Wesley Mission, who is among the letter's signatories, said the issue is not only about the freedom of retailers to trade during holidays had to be balanced against the freedom of families to spend time together.

"I also think this is an acid test for how important the Christian faith is in our community," he said. "I am looking to our leaders to reflect on individual religious freedom. Good Friday and Easter Day are critical days on the Christian calendar."

Mr Baird said no employee would be forced to work on Boxing Day, but the government was "determined to resolve this impasse to create a level playing field across the state".

The NSW government introduced a bill in 2012 to extend retail trading hours but was forced to withdraw it because of a lack of support in the upper house.

The state government says there is no consistency in which areas are designated as tourist trading precincts, allowing them to trade on Boxing Day, and which ones are not.

"For example, Shellharbour can trade and Wollongong cannot; Maitland can trade and Newcastle cannot; Narromine can trade and Dubbo cannot," a government spokeswoman said.

"As a result, the loss of trade for those shops not situated within designated zones is viewed as discriminatory and offers an unfair competitive advantage."