Celebrating Labour Day in New Zealand

On 8 February 1840, two days after the Treaty of Waitangi was signed by Commodore James Hobson on behalf of Queen Victoria, a ship named Duke of Roxburgh arrived at Britannia Beach (now Petone)in Wellington. On board was a man named Samuel Parnell, an immigrant from London.Also on board the ship was a man named George Hunter, whom asked Mr Parnell to build a store for him shortly after they reached New Zealand.

Mr Parnell agreed to Mr Hunter’s request, but laid down the conditions upon which he would be prepared to work. No more than eight hours a day, observing the by then already well known slogan of Robert Owen:

Eight hours work; eight hours recreation; eight hours rest

Mr Hunter and Mr Parnell debated the point, with Mr Hunter pointing out that tradesmen work 12-14 hours per day in London. Mr Parnell countered with the point that they were in Wellington, not London. Given the shortage of skilled tradespeople at the time, Mr Hunter had no choice but to agree to his terms. Before the year was out, Mr Parnell and other workers held a meeting at which an eight hour working day was agreed. Some employers resisted, but Mr Parnell had the numbers.

So as you enjoy this long weekend, the last for many New Zealanders this year before Christmas, the weekend before end of year university exams start for many, take a moment to give thanks to Sam Parnell for something that hundreds of millions of less fortunate workers in other countries can only dream of. He gave you and me the eight hour working day in New Zealand.


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