In 1840, a skilled carpenter named Samuel Parnell traveled from England to Wellington, New Zealand. Soon after, George Hunter, a fellow passenger and shipping agent, offered Parnell a job building a store. Parnell jumped at both, the job opportunity, and the chance to fight for what he believed to be essential employee rights. His response to Hunter’s offer has become a well renowned phrase in New Zealand:
“I will do my best, but I must make this condition, Mr. Hunter, 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 men to do what little things they want for themselves. I am ready to start to-morrow morning at eight o’clock, but it must be on these terms or none at all.”
This was a revolutionary concept in his time and has had long lasting effects on employee and union rights in New Zealand. To this day many workers are reminded of their limits in working over an eight-hour day as it can cause fatigue, stress and reduce productivity. New Zealand was among the first countries in the world to adopt the 8-hour workday and 40-hour work week. To commemorate the struggle for enforcing employee rights by establishing the eight-hour working day, the 28th of October is observed as Labour Day in New Zealand. Labour Day was first celebrated in 1890 with parades in the city centers. Many businesses closed for the day and the government gave workers the day off.
With the demands of employers growing to accommodate short staffing and the serious lack of resources in the public health sector, it is now more important than ever before to reflect on this holiday.
The Labour Day holiday plays an important role in commemorating employee rights and reminding us to maintain a balance between work, social activities and a healthy amount of rest.