The Eight Hour Day - where has it gone?

Australia, once recognised as the 'working man's paradise' for its Eight Hour Day achievement, now has amongst the highest working hours in the developed world.

Eight hours work...

In 1856 Victorian stonemasons won an eight-hour working day, a world first in the struggle for improved working conditions and a fair split between work, rest and play. In 2006 we celebrated the 150th anniversary of this momentous win - read more on the VTHC website

Yet Australia, once recognised as the 'working man's paradise' for its Eight Hour Day achievement, now has amongst the highest working hours in the developed world.

Many people feel stressed and 'time poor'. Workers now encounter an increasingly complex and fragmented workforce. They face over-employment; under-employment; part-time, casual and unpaid work; flexible shift and roster arrangements.

A 2004 report by the Australia Institute found that Australians work the longest hours in the world. The average Australian works around 1855 hours a year, compared to an international average of 1643 hours.

1.9 million employees were employed on a casual basis in 2003, an increase from 1.3 million in 1993.

Only 36% of Australian workers work a standard '9 to 5' week. In 2008, Australian workers are still working long hours.  The VTHC, our affiliated unions and unions all around Australia have taken this on as a challenge, and the 'Your Rights at Work' campaign continues - read more (the ACTU's Your Rights At Work website).

Eight hours rest...

The Eight Hour Day movement, led by the stonemasons, argued against labouring long hours in the heat and sought to reduce working hours to enable workers to be sufficiently rested.

Sleep is as important to the human body as food and water, but most of us don't get enough sleep. People now average a couple of hours less sleep than they did 100 years ago.

Eight hours play...

The gaining of eight hours of leisure gave workers time for recreation, self-improvement and full participation in civic society, and assisted in the development of Victoria's vibrant arts, cultural and sporting communities.

History of the working week

48 Hour Week:

  • 1856 Building tradesmen win the Eight Hour Day in Melbourne
  • 1873 Victorian Government gives female factory workers the Eight Hour Day
  • 1874 Victorian Government contracts make the legal working day eight hours.

44 Hour Week:
(half day off per week)

  • 1920 The 44 hour week awarded to timber workers and engineers
  • 1939 The 44 hour week is applied to all industries

40 Hour Week:

  • 1948 Introduction of the five day 40 hour working week for all workers

38 Hour Week:

  • 1981 Metal Industry gains the 38 hour week, which then becomes the current national standard

36 Hour Week:

  • 2003 Building Industry gains the 36 hour week with Rostered Days Off (RDOs)

Excerpts taken from History Factsheet 03. To access the full Factsheet, go to the Eight Hour Day website. The website also has a number of other factsheets, teaching and learning materials, a calendar of events for the 150th anniversary celebrations, and a list of further resources. (note: February 2016 - this site appears to be no longer available)

Read more: State Library of Victoria  Origins of the Eight Hour Day

Last amended February 2016