Labour Day

Today is Labour Day. Most of us celebrate the day by enjoying a holiday. However, the reason for Labour Day at first was to celebrate the eight-hour working day.

The story about the eight-hour working day in New Zealand is about a carpenter called Samuel Parnell. He was born in London in 1810. As a young man he became a carpenter and worked long hours. Then he immigrated to New Zealand – to Wellington – with his new wife in 1840. On board ship, he met a man called Mr Hunter who wanted Samuel Parnell to build him a store. Parnell said he would only work for eight hours a day. He said that there are 24 hours in a day, which meant eight hours for work, eight for sleep and eight for recreation or for doing whatever a man wanted to do. Hunter was not happy about this but there was a shortage of carpenters in Wellington in those days so he had no choice.

Parnell used to meet new immigrants when they arrived by ship and tell them not to work more than eight hours a day, between 8am and 5pm with one hour for lunch. If anyone worked longer, they were thrown in the harbour. Parnell was called the father of the eight-hour working day. Parnell led the first Labour Day parade in October 1890. When he died a short time later, Wellington gave him a public funeral.

In 1900, the government made Labour Day a public holiday on the fourth Monday in October.


  1. International Labour Day is 1 May yearly which is fixed day. Why is New Zealand Labour Day mobile day?

  2. Two reasons:
    1 Historical – the first Labour Day parade in 1890 was October.
    2 New Zealanders prefer to have holidays added to a weekend if possible, like Queen’s Birthday which is always celebrated on the first Monday in June. Listen to Anniversary Days for more holidays added to a weekend.

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