THE ORIGINS OF THE EIGHT HOUR DAY

Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest

The Eight Hour Day movement had its origins in the industrial revolution in Britain, where industrial production in large factories transformed working life.

The working day could range from 10 to 16 hours six days a week in horrendous conditions and the use of child labour was common, as was child mortality.

The first use of the slogan Eight Hours Labour, Eight Hours Recreation, Eight Hours Rest is most often attributed to British socialist Robert Owen, circa 1817, and the International Workingmen’s Association - often called the First International - made the eight hour day a principle objective at its first meeting in in Geneva in 1866.

As was the case with recognising voting rights for women, Australia and New Zealand were significantly ahead of Europe and the US when it came to widespread enactment of the Eight Hour Day.

The working week in Australia

Annual leave in Australia

48-hour week
1856: Building tradesmen win the Eight Hour Day in Melbourne.
1873: 1874: Victorian government contracts make eight hours the legal working day.
One week
1936: One week of annual leave on full pay is awarded to printing workers (it had already been included in some state awards).
1941: Metal Trades award results in one week of annual leave becoming standard.
44-hour week
1920:44 hour week awarded to timber workers and engineers.
1939: 44 hour week applied to all industries.
Two weeks
1945: Metal Trades award results in two weeks annual leave becoming standard.
40-hour week
1948: Introduction of the five-day 40 hour working week for all workers.
Three weeks
1958: NSW Labor government grants three weeks annual leave.
1963: Following campaigns by Trades and Labor Councils, three weeks annual leave becomes standard.
38-hour week
1981: Metal industry gains the 38 hour week and it becomes the national standard, and still is.
Four weeks
1973: Four weeks annual leave for public servant union members granted by the federal Labor government.
1974: By 1974 the standard of four weeks annual leave is widespread.
36-hour week
2003: Building industry gains the 36 hour week with rostered days off.