Monday, October 7, 2019

Labour Day


Trivia and Facts about Labour Day in Oz 


Today, Monday 7 October 2019, is a public holiday in Oz, being Labour Day. 

Is it still meaningful or is it JAH . . just another holiday? 

I think that as far as the public is concerned, it is the latter. 

Here are some facts of what it is about. 

Drop me a line with comments as to whether it remains of any significance.


Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. 

Labour Day in Australia is a public holiday on dates which vary between states and territories. It is the first Monday in October in the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales and South Australia. In Victoria and Tasmania, it is the second Monday in March (though the latter calls it Eight Hours Day). In Western Australia, Labour Day is the first Monday in March. In Queensland and the Northern Territory, Labour Day occurs on the first Monday in May. 


Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. 

The Eight Hour Day Movement started in Australia in early March 1856. 

The movement, also known as the 40 Hour Week Movement, had originated in Britain, deriving from the Industrial Revolution, a period from the 18th to the 19th century. 

In Australia, negotiations took place between tradesmen and contractors in Melbourne, Victoria. The Victorian gold rush had enticed numerous accomplished tradespeople from Britain to Australia. The Colonial Government approved of this movement, and The Eight Hour Day was introduced into the building trades in Melbourne. Stonemasons led The Eight Hour Day Movement who contended that working for eight hours a day in the Australian heat and weather conditions was appropriate. 

The first march for an eight-hour day by the labour movement occurred in Melbourne on 21 April 1856. On this day stonemasons and building workers on building sites around Melbourne stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an eight-hour day. Their direct action protest was a success, and they are noted as being among the first organised workers in the world to achieve an 8-hour day, with no loss of pay 


The Eight Hour Day Movement was widely celebrated as a world first and cultivated a reputation of Australia as being a 'workingman's paradise'. 

The agreement made between the workers and the The Melbourne Building Trades was that the working day would begin at 7am and finish at 5pm. And meals would account for 2 full hours. 


A well known rhyme of the time for the movement was; 

Eight hours work, 
Eight hours play, 
Eight hours sleep, and 
Eight bob a day. 

A bob was the slang term for a shilling. 


The numbers 888, a symbol of intertwined numbers, embellished the base of many union buildings around Australia. 

The Eight Hour March, commencing April 21, 1856, continued each year until 1951 in Melbourne. 

The Eight Hour Day Movement March is now celebrated as Labour Day, an annual holiday, still celebrated across Australia. 


Initially only a minority of workers, mainly in the building trades, won the eight-hour day. Most workers, including women and children, generally worked longer hours for less pay. 

The fight for working conditions continued throughout the 19th century. It was not until 1916 that the Eight Hours Act was passed in Victoria and New South Wales. 

It would not be until January 1948 that the Commonwealth Arbitration Court approved a 40-hour, five-day working week for all Australians. 



The Eight Hour Day Memorial, Cnr Russell and Victoria Streets, Melbourne, Victoria 

This publicly funded monument was designed to commemorate the eight-hour working day, introduced on 21 April 1856. In February 1856, stonemasons working at the University of Melbourne marched on Parliament House, pressing claims for a regulated eight-hour working day. The skilled workers were in a good position to have their claims met; Melbourne was experiencing a building boom and some of the city’s great public buildings, such as the Public Library (now known as the State Library of Victoria), were under construction. After weeks of protest, the workers became the first in the world to achieve a 48-hour working week. The ‘888’ on the top of obelisk refers to the workers’ popular slogan: eight hours’ work, eight hours’ rest and eight hours’ recreation. Around the monument’s globe the inscription reads: ‘Labour, Recreation, Peace’. While the eight-hour day was an important achievement for the building workers, conditions for women and child labourers in particular remained unchanged and unreasonable for decades. 

The monument was unveiled in 1903 and 14 surviving pioneers of the eight-hour-day movement attended the ceremony. Mr Ward, MLA, claimed in his keynote address that the ‘pioneers had led the way, not only for Victoria, but for the rest of the world’. 

Originally located in Gordon Reserve, Spring Street, the monument was moved to the corner of Russell and Victoria Streets in 1923. Its site near Parliament House was perhaps a spur to reform, although the present site opposite Trades Hall is wholly appropriate. Its presence near Parliament House was said to offend the conservative members, hence its relocation. 

 Eight-hour day march circa 1900, outside Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne. 

Eight-hour day banner, Melbourne, 1856 

‍‍Eight Hour Day procession in Wickham Street, Fortitude Valley, ca. 1908. 


Operative Stonemasons’ Society float, Labour Day, Sydney c 1918 

Operative Stonemasons’ Society banner, Labour Day, Sydney c 1918

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