Labour Day / Eight Hour Day

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Labour Day is an annual public holiday in Australia that was originally called ‘Eight Hours Day’, a victory for workers in the mid-late 19th century. 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.

Labour Day commemorates the achievements of organized labour to implement the eight-hour day in the middle of the 19th century.

In the early 19th century, workers were required to work 10 – 12 hours a day for six days a week.

In 1850s, workers brought a strong push for better conditions. A significant part of the push began in 1855 in Sydney. On 21 April 1856, in Melbourne, the stonemasons workers staged a well-organized protest. They downed tools and  walked to Parliament House with other members of the building trade. Their fight was for an 8-hour day, effectively a 48-hour week to replace the 60-hour week. The government agreed to an 8-hour day for workers employed on public works, with no loss of pay.

Labour Day (Labor Day in the US) is also often referred to as May Day around the world. Internationally it is celebrated on 1 May and is known as International Workers’ Day in more than 80 countries. International Workers’ Day traces its international routes back to the 1886 Haymarket affair in Chicago, USA. The universal significance is that, across the world, the 8-hour day is considered the fairest working hours in a day for people in any industry.

Today, Labour Day in Australia is known as Eight-Hour Day in Tasmania and May Day in the Northern Territory. It is always on a Monday, creating a long weekend. Marches or parades only usually occur in Queensland now, and not always there depending on the state government.

Labour Day is celebrated in March in Western Australia, Tasmania and Victoria, in May in the Northern Territory, and in October in Queensland, New South Wales, South Australia and the Australian Capital Territory.

In New Zealand, this holiday is celebrated on the fourth Monday in October.

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