People Power: Focus Question 2: How Did Australians Improve Their Working Conditions in the 1850s?
In the 1850s, the gold rush led to a building boom in Melbourne. Stonemasons (or builders) took advantage of the demand for their services – due to the shortage of skilled workers – to fight for better working conditions to improve their quality of life. At the time they were often required to work 12 hours a day. Their motto, based on the maxim of the British social reformer and industrialist Robert Owen, was ‘Eight hours labour, eight hours recreation, eight hours rest’. The efforts of the Eight-hour Day movement resulted in a change in the law, granting the eight-hour day to many skilled tradespeople; the growth of trade unions to protect workers’ rights; and the election of Charles Don, a working man, to the Parliament of Victoria to represent workers’ interests.