Eight hour day


Donated by John Ellis

Museum of Australian Democracy collection

This badge was issued in 2006 to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Eight Hour Day in Victoria.

On 21 April 1856, after lobbying and protest by stonemasons and other tradespeople, Victoria’s colonial government approved the introduction of an eight-hour working day for Melbourne’s building trades. The move was resisted by some employers, in particular those undertaking large scale public building contracts such as Parliament House. Stonemasons celebrated their victory in a march on Monday 12 May 1856 behind the banner ‘eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’.

The achievement of the eight-hour day was celebrated with annual processions held on 21 April, and in 1879 the Victorian government declared Eight Hour Day a public holiday. The processions were the largest public processions held in Melbourne and country towns for decades. Workers marched with banners and floats, watched by the wider community, and the day culminated in picnics and sporting events.

In 1934 Eight Hour Day was renamed Labour Day. The austerity of the Depression and Second World War saw the decline of marches, and the final Labour Day march occurred in 1951.

The donor of this badge John Ellis writes:

This badge commemorates the time when union workers won the right to eight hours of work, eight hours of rest and eight hours of recreation. This was a wonderful achievement by the union movement and makes me feel proud to be a unionist (AMWU–Retired members group). With our present-day working culture swamped by corporate mobilisation and job insecurity, workers are often forced to work several jobs to make ends meet and this disrupts family life. Luckily there are still some strong unions, but some workers’ rights have been eroded due to employer pressure upon government.