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Labour Day holiday – so much more than just a long weekend

Labour Day is an annual public holiday that celebrates the eight-hour working day which stems way back to middle 19th century.

History reveals most labourers in the early 19th century worked 10-12 hours each day for six days a week. In the 1850s there was a strong push for better conditions.

In 1856 stonemasons in Melbourne staged a well-organised protest. They downed their tools and walked to Parliament House with other members of the building trade to fight for an eight-hour day, 48-hour working week instead of 60 hours per week.

The argument for the eight-hour day was based on the need for each person to have eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest.

The government agreed to this condition for workers employed on public works, with no loss of pay. This was an enormous victory for workers as well as a world first. The universal significance is that the eight-hour day is considered the fairest working hours in a day for people in any industry.

Over the next two decades Australian states introduced the eight-hour-day. It took over 90 years later for the five-day work week to be adopted, and in 1948 it was made official.

Today many union buildings across Australia have the numbers 888 on them. This is in support of British socialist Robert Owen who, during the British industrial revolution in the early 1800s, believed people should have 8 hours to work, 8 hours for recreation and 8 hours to sleep.

Why is Labour Day different for each State & Territory?

Labour Day is always celebrated on a Monday, creating a long weekend, but at different times across Australia. This is because each state achieved the 8-hour day on different dates.

ACT, NSW and SA are the last states to celebrate Labour Day, with October 7 denoting this momentous holiday this year.

Labour Day celebrations in 2020:

2 Mar WA
9 Mar VIC
9 Mar TAS
4 May NT
4 May QLD
5 Oct NSW, ACT & SA

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