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Labour Day in Australia

Labour Day, also known as Eight Hours Day in Tasmania and May Day in the Northern Territory, commemorates the granting of the eight-hour working day for Australians. It also recognizes workers’ contributions towards the nation’s economy. It is an annual public holiday and its date varies across the states and territories.

Is Labour Day a Public Holiday?

Labour Day is a public holiday in 8 territories, where it is a day off for the general population, and schools and most businesses are closed.

©iStockphoto.com/angel rodriguez

What Do People Do?

Many people use the Labour Day holiday as part of a long weekend where they can relax, spend time with friends or family members, play or watch sport, have barbecues. Some people plan a getaway trip to a coastal region, the mountains or the countryside where they can engage in various activities such as picnics, wine-tasting at a winery, bush-walking, or camping.

Throughout the nation, Labour Day is an occasion for unions, community groups and the general public to join in celebration. In Queensland’s capital city of Brisbane there are marches are held on or around Labour Day. They are often led by the state’s key political leaders and influential key figures. Union members often take part in these marches.

Public Life

Labour Day is a public holiday in all states and territories in Australia. It is observed in Western Australia on the first Monday in March and on the second Monday in March in Victoria and Tasmania. The Northern Territory observes Labour Day on the first Monday in May. It is held on the first Monday of October in Queensland, the Australian Capital Territory, New South Wales, and South Australia. Queensland observed Labour Day on the first Monday in May until 2012 and switched back to this in 2016.

During this holiday government offices are closed, as are post offices, schools and many businesses. Those planning on using public transport on this holiday need to check with the local transport authorities prior to travelling.

Background

The history of Labour Day in Australia spans over a century. It is an important annual event that remembers those who struggled and succeeded to ensure decent and fair working conditions in Australia. During the mid to late 1800s the working day was long and arduous, where some employees would work up to 12 hours a day, six days a week.

Many Australians saw the need for better working conditions and in the 1850s there was a strong push for this. On April 21, 1856, stonemasons at the University of Melbourne marched to Parliament House to push for an eight-hour working day. An agreement with employers for a 48-hour week was eventually reached and Australian workers welcomed the new eight-hour day. A victory march was held on May 12 that year and each year after that. In 1856 the new work regulations were recognized in New South Wales, followed by Queensland in 1858 and South Australia in 1873.

In 1874, Tasmania joined the other states, which were colonies at the time, in adopting the shorter eight-hour working day. In 1879 the Victorian Government made one further step towards better conditions for employees by proclaiming a paid public holiday that year. In light of the labour movement’s successful push for an eight-hour day, a large May Day meeting was held in Melbourne in 1890. On May 1 that year a local newspaper made reference to that day as May Day.

One of the first May Day/Labour Day marches in Australia occurred on May 1, 1891 in Queensland. More than 1000 people participated in the march and carried banners. The leaders wore blue sashes and the Eureka flag was carried. It was reported that cheers were given for “the eight-hour day”. The Labour Day date was moved from May to the second Monday in March in some parts of Australia after World War II. Since 1948, Labour Day in Western Australia has been observed on the first Monday in March. It marks the granting of the eight hour working day to Western Australians.

Symbols

The number eight has often been spotted on many union buildings in Australia to symbolize an eight-hour working day.  For example, the Eight-Hour monument featuring a golden globe bearing the 888 symbol was erected in Spring Street in Melbourne in 1903.

Renowned Australian writer and poet Henry Lawson (1867-1922) wrote a poem “Freedom on the Wallaby” to mark one of the largest May Day/Labour Day demonstrations in Queensland in 1891 where it was reported that cheers were made for “the eight-hour day”. There have been other songs and poems that refer to the theme behind this holiday and the efforts of the labour movement in modern times such as “The Eight-Hour Day” by John Warner, calling for Australians to stand up united and maintain their rights to an eight-hour work day.

Disclaimer: Precise dates for this holiday in Australia in the late 19th century and early 20th century have not been confirmed, however based on research, estimates have been provided for the earlier dates of this holiday. Timeanddate.com would appreciate any historical fact on these dates, so please contact us at: webmaster@timeanddate.com .

About Labour Day in other countries

Read more about Labour Day.

Labour Day Observances

YearWeekdayDateNameHoliday TypeArea
2010MonMar 1Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2010MonMar 8Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2010MonMar 8Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2010MonMay 3May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2010MonMay 3Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2010MonOct 4Labour DayCommon State holidayAustralian Capital Territory, New South Wales
2010MonOct 4Labour DayCommon State holidaySouth Australia
2011MonMar 7Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2011MonMar 14Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2011MonMar 14Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2011MonMay 2May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2011MonMay 2Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2011MonOct 3Labour DayCommon State holidayAustralian Capital Territory, New South Wales
2011MonOct 3Labour DayCommon State holidaySouth Australia
2012MonMar 5Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2012MonMar 12Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2012MonMar 12Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2012MonMay 7May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2012MonMay 7Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2012MonOct 1Labour DayCommon State holidayAustralian Capital Territory, New South Wales
2012MonOct 1Labour DayCommon State holidaySouth Australia
2013MonMar 4Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2013MonMar 11Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2013MonMar 11Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2013MonMay 6May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2013MonOct 7Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, Qld, SA
2014MonMar 3Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2014MonMar 10Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2014MonMar 10Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2014MonMay 5May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2014MonOct 6Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, Qld, SA
2015MonMar 2Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2015MonMar 9Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2015MonMar 9Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2015MonMay 4May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2015MonOct 5Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, Qld, SA
2016MonMar 7Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2016MonMar 14Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2016MonMar 14Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2016MonMay 2May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2016MonMay 2Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2016MonOct 3Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, SA
2017MonMar 6Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2017MonMar 13Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2017MonMar 13Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2017MonMay 1May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2017MonMay 1Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2017MonOct 2Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, SA
2018MonMar 5Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2018MonMar 12Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2018MonMar 12Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2018MonMay 7May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2018MonMay 7Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2018MonOct 1Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, SA
2019MonMar 4Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2019MonMar 11Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2019MonMar 11Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2019MonMay 6May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2019MonMay 6Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2019MonOct 7Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, SA
2020MonMar 2Labour DayCommon State holidayWestern Australia
2020MonMar 9Labour DayCommon State holidayVictoria
2020MonMar 9Eight Hours DayCommon State holidayTasmania
2020MonMay 4May DayCommon State holidayNorthern Territory
2020MonMay 4Labour DayCommon State holidayQueensland
2020MonOct 5Labour DayCommon State holidayACT, NSW, SA

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