Labour Day – October 4, 2021

Australian Labour Day, which draws its origin from the eight-hour day movement, is celebrated on different dates in different states. It’s commemorated every first Monday of October, on October 4 this year, in New South Wales, ACT, and South Australia. Northern Territory and Queensland celebrate theirs every first Monday of May, while it occurs on the second Monday of March in Tasmania and Victoria. Did you know that the workers in Australia were the very first to achieve a reduction in working time without a salary cut? Through the success of its eight-hour movement, Australia inspired workers in other countries, including the U.S., to campaign for shorter hours, which eventually led to the declaration of International Workers Day.

History of Labour Day

Labour Day stems from a struggle to obtain fairer working conditions for workers in Australia. It recognizes the need to empower workers, who are the very backbone of every economy. Labour Day is an encompassing term for the different days when the struggle for shorter working hours is celebrated in Australia.

The history of Labour Day can be traced back to the 1800s when some workers were required to work for close to 12 hours and had only one day off during the week. On April 21, 1856, the stonemasons at the University of Melbourne put down their tools and marched to the Parliament House, protesting for an eight-hour working day. That led to employers agreeing to a 48-hour week, and a victory march was held on May 12, 1856, marking a start to the first Labour Day celebration.

Some states in Australia followed suit between 1856 and 1879 by creating an eight-hour working day regulation. That includes New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Tasmania, and Victoria, each having its day for Labour Day celebration.

After the Second World War, Labour Day was moved from May to the second Monday of March in some Australian states. This commemorated the day when most western Australian workers were granted eight-hour working days. But workers in Queensland campaigned for it to be marked on May 1 to enable them to be part of the international campaign for May 1 to be the official International Workers Day. That led to Australia’s first May Day parade on May 1, 1891, seeing over 1,000 people participate in the march.

Labour Day parades are still done every year around March, May, and October to appreciate the unions’ struggles for every Australian worker. Workers get to take that day off from work as it’s also a public holiday.

Labour Day timeline

May 12, 1856
The First Labour Day Parade

Workers march out in Melbourne to celebrate the eight-hour working day agreement.

May 1, 1890
May Day in Australia

The first May Day meeting is held in Australia, as referenced by the Brisbane Workers editorial.

May 1, 1891
The May 1 Parade

Over 1,000 people march in Barcaldine, Queensland, to campaign for an international workers’ day.

1903
The Eight-Hour Monument

A golden globe featuring a 888 symbol is erected in Melbourne.

Labour Day FAQs

Why should you not wear white after Labour Day?

On the contrary, you can wear white clothing and shoes after Labour Day. The whole rule about not wearing white after Labour Day was born out of a tradition of wearing clothes of different shades to mark a new wardrobe after the end of summer. On the other hand, some fashion designers believe it was a way to divide the haves from the have nots.

Does the Labour Day holiday affect pay?

Labour Day in Australia is one of the holidays recognized by the federal and state governments. Therefore, employers are required to pay their employees the base rate for the number of hours they would have worked if it wasn’t a public holiday. However, that does not apply to casual employees.

Why is Labour Day celebrated on different days in Australia?

Aside from Northern Territory and Queensland, which celebrates Labour Day on the first Monday of May to align with International Workers Day, other states mark Labour Day in the month the eight-hour day was instituted in their states.

How to Observe Labour Day

  1. Take part in the historical Labour Day parade

    If you haven’t previously participated in a Labour Day parade, this upcoming Labour Day presents an opportunity. The Labour Day parade is a key part of the Labour Day celebration, and hundreds of people always show up every year to march. Check where the Labour Day parade will happen in your area, mark the date, and get ready to put your marching boots on.

  2. Host a barbecue

    You have the entire day off on Labour Day, so why not host a barbecue for friends and neighbors. If you don’t know how to barbecue, take a crash course online or ask one of your friends. Get all the things you need for a barbecue and send out invitations. Don’t forget to make contingencies in case some of your guests are vegetarians.

  3. Take a deserved short trip with family or friends

    What is the best thing you can do on holiday? Road trip! Since Labour Day usually falls at the end of a weekend, you can take a trip to the countryside or mountains. It’s best to prepare in advance. Research and identify the place you would like to go to, check with your family or friends to see who is interested, and make the necessary preparations.

5 Interesting Facts About The Eight-Hour Movement

  1. It inspired workers in the U.S.

    Seeing the success of the eight-hour movement in Australia, 200,000 American workers left their work and protested for an eight-hour day, too.

  2. The Haymarket Affair influenced it

    The execution of the four American workers in the Haymarket bombing incident made the International Working Men’s Association and labor unions in Australia campaign for international May Day.

  3. Only union members benefited

    Most of the people that benefited from the successes of the eight-hour movement in its early days were union members.

  4. Union membership is declining

    According to the Australian parliament, union membership has dropped by a million between 1976 and 2016.

  5. Working hours are increasing

    Despite the eight-hour movement’s success, working hours have increased over the years, and technology makes it possible to take your work home.

Why Labour Day is Important

  1. It is a public holiday

    Labour Day is a public holiday, which means you get to take the entire day off from work. That gives you a day to spend with friends and family and kick back and relax without worrying about deadlines.

  2. It recognizes the need for everyone to have a right to a healthier life

    The eight-hour movement was inspired by Robert Owen, who suggested everyone needs eight hours of work and eight hours of rest. While an eight-hour day may not be relevant today, the idea behind it was right. It shows people need more breaks and a healthier lifestyle to be more productive.

  3. It recognizes the importance of workers

    Labour Day recognizes the need for workers to be empowered as they are a crucial element to the growth and development of an organization and the country, not slaves to their employers’ dreams and goals.

Labour Day dates

YearDateDay
2021October 4Monday
2022October 3Monday
2023October 2Monday
2024October 7Monday
2025October 6Monday

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