Labour Day: A reason to remember

The 22nd of October is Labour Day. Not only is this a public holiday – which is great – but it also serves as a great opportunity to remember workers’ history in addition to the rights that have been fought for, and won, throughout labour history in New Zealand.

Cover of Samuel Parnell: A legacyTo start at the start, Labour Day commemorates the successful fight for an eight hour working day. The right to the first eight hour work day was won by a carpenter in Wellington by the name of Samuel Parnell in 1840. This right was later enshrined into law with the Labour Day Act in 1899. This made Aotearoa-New Zealand one of the first countries in the world to introduce the eight hour work day. This was a great achievement and one that should not be taken for granted.

What Labour Day, and the history surrounding Labour Day, should serve to remind us is that the eight hour work day (40 hour work week) was not always the norm and that it was the result of a struggle. However this is not where this story ends: in 2008 the Department of Labour in New Zealand released figures that showed roughly 415,000 New Zealand workers were working in excess of 40 hours per week. This highlights the fact that there is, contrary to popular myth and perception, no longer any legislative rights to an eight hour working day in New Zealand.

Eight Hour Day Banner, Melbourne, 1856,
Eight Hour Day Banner, Melbourne, 1856 / Public Domain

For the reasons stated above, it is important to remember the history of days like Labour Day. Remembering the history is important in remembering the past and how far we have come as a country, but more importantly, to remember that there were struggles for these rights and to ensure that we don’t have to have to struggle for them again.

Other important events in worker’s history include:

  • The Formation of the Maritime Council in 1889 that formed in Dunedin with representatives from the wharf labourers’ and West Coast miners’ Unions.
  • The Maritime Strike of 1890.
  • The 1908 Blackball Miners’ Strike that won a 30 minute lunch break for the miners. This event would also lead to the rise of the New Zealand Federation of Labour.
  • The Maoriland Worker was launched in Christchurch in 1910 by the Shearers Union. It was a Monthly Journal that became influential during the Anti-war movement in the lead up to and during the first First World War.
  • The Waihi Miners’ Strike of 1912 was one of the most fierce industrial disputes in New Zealand’s history. 1,000 miners went on strike, bringing Waihi Gold Mine to a Standstill. Striking Miner Fred Evans was killed by a crowd of strikebreakers and the Police during the strike.
  • The Birth of the Labour Party in 1916 that was founded by representatives of the Social Democratic Party, the United Federation of Labour, and the Labour Representation Committees.
  • The 1924 Rail Strike.
  • The 1951 Waterfront Lockout and Supporting Strikes that lasted 151 days and involved 22,000 workers at the height of the dispute. This dispute arose when employers refused to agree to the 15% wage increase granted by the Arbitration Court.
  • The 1979 General Strike. The first general stoppage in the history of New Zealand’s industrial relations.

Resources on Labour Day and Labour History in New Zealand:

There are also many great books on New Zealand’s labour history that can be found in the library:

New Zealand Labour History

View Full List

Photo Hunt October: Southbridge Labour Day Agricultural Fair 1949

At the Southbridge Labour Day Agricultural Fair
Entry in the 2015 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. PH15-035.jpg CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0 NZ

“Country and city folk get together at the Southbridge Labour Day agricultural fair in 1949.”

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008.  The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

Photo Hunt October: Corsair Bay, Labour Day 1953

Corsair Bay, Labour Day..
Entry in the Christchurch City Libraries 2008 Photo Hunt. HWC08-LYT-035 CC-BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

“Labour Day 1953.  It’s too cold for swimming that’s why we are wearing our coats.  It was a family ritual that we started our beach visits between Labour Day and Easter regardless of the weather.”

Apparently a cold spring in 1953 as well.

Christchurch City Libraries has been running an annual Photo Hunt in conjunction with the city’s Heritage Week since 2008.  The 2016 Photo Hunt is running again from 1 – 31 October. During the month of October we will be posting a series of images from earlier Photo Hunts.

Enter the 2016 hunt online or at your local library.

Kete Christchurch is a collection of photographs and stories about Christchurch & Canterbury, past and present. Anyone can join and contribute.

“Honest Peter” outfit, 1946 : Picturing Canterbury

Prime Minister at Labour Day Picnic, 1946, campaigning for re-election (successfully!). My father designed the “Honest Peter” outfit and my sister and I spent a hot day under cover. (I was the backend!) Mr Fraser looked underneath and said “Hot in there, girlie?” and I said “What do you think?” I was roundly told off by Dad for being cheeky. My young brother was the jockey. 29 October 1946. Entry in the 2012 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. Kete Christchurch. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

Labour Day – Monday 27 October

Labour Day is a New Zealand public holiday that celebrates the eight-hour working day. It is observed on the fourth Monday in October. The eight-hour working day and the 48-hour working week became law in New Zealand in 1899. Later, the working week was further reduced to 40 hours. All our libraries are closed on Monday 27 October.

Many girls in mass-production factories work on moving belts between 1940 and 1945.

Working on the Isaac Theatre Royal Technicians at work in the service department of the television section at Philips Electrical Industries Ltd.

Photo of A small goods factory in Cashel Street, Christchurch : employees of the Christchurch Meat Co. Ltd. dicing meat and making sausages. [1905] Wongi's art work - Smile for Christchurch

For more images of people at work, see our page Christchurch at work.

The end of the day : Picturing Canterbury

Farmers and friend, having a beer at the end of the day (note the beer being poured from a glass half gallon jar) Labour Day, Southbridge, 1949, at an agricultural fair. Entry in the 2012 Christchurch City Libraries Photo Hunt. Kete Christchurch. CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 NZ

Enter the 2014 Christchurch Photo Hunt

Looking at Labour Day – Monday 28 October 2013

Labour Day is a New Zealand public holiday that celebrates the eight-hour working day. It is observed on the fourth Monday in October. The eight-hour working day and the 48-hour working week became law in New Zealand in 1899. Later, the working week was further reduced to 40 hours. All our libraries are closed today.

Many girls in mass-production factories work on moving belts between 1940 and 1945.

Photo of Striking slaughtermen outside the Supreme Court, Christchurch [1907]
Striking slaughtermen outside the Supreme Court, Christchurch 1907
Working on the Isaac Theatre RoyalTechnicians at work in the service department of the television section at Philips Electrical Industries Ltd.Wongi's art work - Smile for ChristchurchPhoto of Labourers outside the fellmongery, Belfast Freezing Works, Christchurch Photo of A small goods factory in Cashel Street, Christchurch : employees of the Christchurch Meat Co. Ltd. dicing meat and making sausages. [1905]

For more images of people at work, see our page Christchurch at work.

We work hard – Monday is Labour Day

Workers
A gang of co-operative labourers

It’s Labour Day on Monday – celebrate the emergence of the 8 hour working day in New Zealand by going online.  The wonderful NZ On Screen web site has posted a Labour Day collection. This hand picked selection brings together 13 titles that relate to Kiwi working life. The clever and informative content featured includes:

  • Revolution – a 4 part tv series on economic change in the 80s and early 90s
  • A film on the economic overhaul wrought by the 1984 Labour government – Someone else’s country
  • An episode of the famous NZ Public service comedy Gliding on

See our Labour day resource for more information on this hard earned holiday.