Labour Day

“There are 24 hours per day given to us; eight of these should be for work, eight for sleep, and the remaining eight for recreation and in which for men to do what little things they want for themselves.” ~ Samuel Duncan Parnell

Aboard the ‘Britanna’, an emigrant ship on its way to Port Nicholson (Wellington), a business arrangement was discussed between store merchant George Hunter and carpenter Samuel Parnell.

Samuel agreed to build George a new shop upon arrival but there was one condition that he would not budge on. He would only work an 8 hour day.

In a world where anything from a 10 to 16 hour working day was the norm, I’m sure this caused George Hunter’s eyebrows to do more than just raise.

Being 1840 and New Zealand being such a young colony, there was not a lot of work force to choose from – so like most employers of the time, George Hunter had little choice but to accept this condition.

Through this, New Zealand became the first country in the world to promote and take part in the 8 hour working day. This was also known as the 40 hour week movement when the idea took the world wide work force by storm.

It did not take long for other tradesmen like Samuel to catch on to this idea. They had a fight on their hands as many with power tried to keep things the way they were but for such a young country to be made up of mostly the working class, things were bound to change.

On the 28th October 1890, New Zealand celebrated its first Labour Day. It was a day of acknowledgement of the birth of the 8 hour day and a day where the working man can take stock of the fight that took place for his rights.

In all the major cities – parades, sport events and all sorts of other activities took place. In Wellington, Samuel Parnell appeared in the very 1st parade, waving to the crowds and maybe not quite believing how successful the movement had become.

He died a few weeks later and is buried in Bolton Street Cemetery in Wellington, his tombstone engraved with his world-wide achievement. Chris and I have been fortunate enough to see his grave.

In 1900, the government made Labour Day a holiday, mainly so the people could attend the parades and activities for the day. This tradition has died away over time.
The day was ‘Monday-ised’ in 1910 to be acknowledged the 4th Monday in October.

He worked with head – with heart and hand,
From early youth to age,
And in a new, unfettered land
He taught this precept sage,
‘Eight hours for work, eight hours for play
And eight for sleep excel.’
This was the charter for each day
Of our wise king, Parnell!

Alexander Stuart

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