Sunday, October 21, 2007

Labour Day is a meaningless holiday in New Zealand...

Today is LABOUR DAY in New Zealand, celebrated on the fourth Monday of October every year. Once it celebrated the real value of workers to New Zealand society and the economy, now its a holiday with a very shallow meaning. To most workers its just another holiday off work. Most know their work is not really valued by their employers. In this the year of 2007 they are just another number, another commodity in the market economy.

Back in the new British colony of Wellington, New Zealand, in 1840, a carpenter by the name of Samuel Parnell( an existing suburb in Auckland was named after him)refused to work more than eight hours a day. He is famous for his statement that there is 8 hours to work, 8 for recreation and 8 hours for sleep. Parnell encouraged other tradesmen in the new colony to support him; and in October of 1840 a resolution was passed in support of his proposal.

On the 28 October,1890 the 50th Anniversary of Parnell's resolution was celebrated with a parade through the streets of the colony. In 1890 the Government of the now emerging dominion legislated for a public holiday from 1900. Because some shrewd seamen were celebrating the new holiday on different dates in diferent provinces, employers sought government help to curb the practice. As a consequence the holiday was 'Mondayised' from 1910.

It is, as I stated above,now just another holiday with no real meaning. The recognised eight hour day has long gone. The Employment Contracts Act of 1991, introduced by a New Right market- obsessed National Government, changed the face of employment law and employment practices in New Zealand, probably for ever. The fact of the matter is that in New Zealand, many workers work regularly more than an eight hours a day, and often for no extra pay or overtime, especially if they are salaried workers.

Samuel Parnell would turn in his grave today. Trade unions in New Zealand are still struggling to turn back the excesses of the 1990's and are slowly building up their membership, and continue to celebrate Labour Day and what it meant.

I know other countries celebrate a Labour Day. I wonder if their employment laws allow for an eight hour day? Some how I don't believe it! Enjoy your holiday when it comes round.

The Writers Lounge

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