Labour Day or the Eight hours day marks the granting of the eight-hour working day for Australians and recognises the “Aussie” workers contributions in building the nation’s economy. While it is an annual public holiday not all States and Territories commemorate it on the same day.
Many people align the day with Unions and their hard work in negotiating for changes to be made to working conditions. The history of Labour Day in Australia is over a century old and was brought about by those who saw the need to move away from the working day that was long and tough, where some employees would work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.
Many Australians saw the need for better working conditions and a “fair go” for one and all, and so in the 1850s there was a strong push for change. One of the leaders behind the 8 hour movement was British socialist Robert Owen who believed that people should have 8 hours to work, 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours to sleep. On many union buildings across Australia you may find the numbers 888 marked somewhere to further commemorate Owen’s ideas.
On April 21, 1856, stonemasons at the University of Melbourne marched to Parliament House to push for an eight-hour working day. After numerous negotiations, agreement with employers for a 48-hour week was eventually reached and Australian workers welcomed the new eight-hour day. A victory march was held on May 12 that year and each year after that. In 1856 the new work regulations were recognised in New South Wales, followed by Queensland in 1858 and South Australia in 1873.
In 1874, Tasmania joined the other States in adopting the shorter eight-hour working day. In 1879 the Victorian Government made one further step towards better conditions for employees by proclaiming a paid public holiday that year.
One of the first May Day/Labour Day marches in Australia occurred on May 1, 1891 in Queensland. More than 1000 people participated in the march and carried banners. The leaders wore blue sashes and the Eureka flag was carried. The Labour Day date was moved from May to the second Monday in March in some parts of Australia after World War II.
Well, I’m certainly thankful to those who have fought, and continue to fight, for better working conditions and who have given us a wonderful long weekend! Enjoy it people!