New Zealand Labour Day: A brief history

One man's fight for the eight-hour working day

New Zealand Labour Day: A brief history

Falling on the fourth Monday of October, New Zealand Labour Day is a holiday commemorating one of the most important employer/employee battles in history.

In 1840, carpenter Samuel Parnell won the fight for an eight-hour day working day in Wellington -making NZ one of the very first nations to claim the historic right.

The story goes that Purnell was hired by shipping agent George Hunter, who commissioned him to construct a new store for him. Parnell agreed-but stipulated some terms of his own.

“I will do my best,” Parnell told Hunter.

“But I must make this condition…that on the job the hours shall only be eight for the day… There are twenty-four hours per day given us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for me to do what little things they want for themselves.”

Hunter replied that in London workers were expected to be on site for 6am.

“We’re not in London,” replied Purnell.

From here, Purnell encouraged others to ask for the same working hours – presenting a united front until the union eventually won.

Celebrated for the first time on 28 October 1890, thousands of employees, union members, and supporters flooded the streets to celebrate the passing of the legislation 50 years earlier.

In 1899, the New Zealand government ruled that the day be a public holiday throughout the whole nation.

The establishment of Labour Day as a national holiday was a huge step forward in improving employee working conditions and legal rights.

How will you be celebrating Labour Day? Tell us in the comments.

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