Saturday, October 25, 2008

This Monday,October 27 2008, is Labour Day in New Zealand...

This Monday, October 27 2008, is Labour Day here in New Zealand...

This Monday is Labour Day here in NZ and most workers wouldn't know the history behind it. Oh yeah, its something to do with a holiday for workers, some would say!

I know you celebrate Labour Day in the US too. I'll tell you a little about ours.

It's 165 years since an English carpenter, Samuel Parnell, arrived at Wellington's Port Nicholson in 1840 determined that life would not be a continuation of the work-slavery he and his fellows had previously endured back in the England of those days. After all what would be the point of travelling 12,000 miles down to New Zealand if conditions were to be the same?

On his arrival, a fellow passenger reportedly asked Parnell if he would set up a store for him. He agreed, but as a condition he made his famous and historical statement that is the ethos behind Labour Day here in NZ: He would work only eight hours a day, because his philosophy was that in any 24 hours,eight were for work, eight for sleep and eight for recreation.

Parnell knew he couldn't change things on his own; he needed a movement for change behind him. So he made it a mission to meet incoming ships to the new British colony here and explain to tradesmen just how things were and should be in New Zealand.

According to a workers meeting was held in October 1840 on Lambton Quay in Wellington at which workers resolved that any tradesman breaking the eight hour rule would be thrown in the drink - would get a dunking in the harbour!

Oh how times have changed, so much for the ethos behind Labour Day, now just a holiday reminding us all of the intestinal fortitude of one Samuel Parnell who started a movement for change in the interests of workers rights, long before there were established trade unions(labor unions)or any inclination for establishing any.

Since the arrival and establishment of Labour Day, and the changes made to workers rights with the advent of the Employment Contracts Act here by the previous right wing National government in 1991, many workers now work in excess of 50 hours a week, and many are paid minimal overtime rates or none at all, levels exceeded only by South Korea.

There was a time in NZ when our trade unions were strong enough to ensure we had at least minimal rights and we considered unions overseas including the US with a little derision, and even more with stronger advocacy from the more militant unions here. So much has been lost during the last 17 years that we need another Samuel Parnell to make some determined decisions. Well lets enjoy Labour Day at least, while we still have it!


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