When Dolly Parton sang about working ‘9 to 5’, she described the hustle and grind of an eight-hour working day.
But jump back to the 1800s, and it was far more common for Australians to work between 10 to 14 hours a day, six days a week.
Ridiculous, right? Yet when workers proposed dropping down to less than 10-hour days, employers were horrified.
How come we now work eight-hour days?
May Day – also known as Labour Day – commemorates Australian union members winning the eight-hour working day.
But only Northern Territory and Queensland have a public holiday on 1 May. Because in the Australian campaign the eight-hour day, 1 May wasn’t the only important date.
Stonemasons in Melbourne and Sydney won an eight-hour day in April 1856 – a whole thirty years before the Americans took up the same demand onto their streets in May 1886. Their action inspired American workers to take their own.
The Stonemasons kicked off a campaign that the rest of the Australian union movement picked up and persevered with for almost 100 years. It wasn’t until 1948 that all Australians worked eight-hour days, five days a week.
Under Australian work laws today, employees can only work up to 7.6 hours a day or 38 hours a week.
In some industries it is common to work beyond that limit, such as healthcare workers for example. But any hours beyond these can mean you’re paid overtime payments, penalty rates or you accumulate ‘time off in lieu’ where you can take those extra hours off on another day.
How to avoid overwork
While it’s great no one has to work 14-hour days in Australia anymore (but if you are without the proper compensation, give your union a call ASAP!), union members refuse to just sit around.
Unionised workers show up to defend penalty rates, prevent wage theft and ensure workers don’t have to stay ‘switched on’ beyond their eight-hour day.
Australian workplaces are changing, and unions are making sure workers’ rights keep up with them. Union members use different way to prevent excessive work hours and ensure all workers have good work-life balance, such as Rostered Days Off or four day work weeks.
No one wants to dedicate their energy to work each day only to end up burnt out and disconnected from family and friends. The best way of making change for the better in your own workplace is to join your union.
It’s a public holiday, but Labour Day actually celebrates work