Activity 2b: The Eight-hour Day Movement

In the 1840s there had been some campaigning for shorter working hours in Australia. However, it was not until the mid-1850s that real change occurred for some workers. This change was triggered by campaigning, strike action and negotiating with employers by the stonemason's unions in both New South Wales and Victoria. Skilled workers in the building industry were in a strong bargaining position because they were in relatively short supply at a time when a significant amount of building work was taking place. This building boom was largely a result of the increases in population and wealth created by the gold rush.

The following activities explore the key figures and milestones of the Eight-hour Day movement.

Resources Required


e Resources


Task 1

Key questions for students to investigate:

  • What sorts of jobs did people do in the 1850s?
  • How many hours did they usually work each week?
  • What were some of the injustices that workers faced?
  • Why was an eight-hour day important to the campaigners?

Task 2

In groups, students read the story in the Handout: Eight-hour Day Men. Students identify three important actions that helped the Eight-hour Day Men to win shorter working hours.

Students create an animated version of this story. Before beginning, time should be given for students to brainstorm, organise and plan their ideas using the Handout: Storyboard Proforma. It is expected that each student takes an active role in the creation of their animation.

Task 3

Using the online timeline creator, the e Resources provided and the Handout: Key Milestones students create a multimedia timeline highlighting significant events of the Eight-hour Day movement.  

The timeline should include:

  • images of events
  • keywords, slogan and symbols
  • key actions of individuals, groups (including trade unions), the media, courts and governments. 

Task 4

Using the categories of grievance, action and result, students complete the Handout: Eight-hour Day Matrix to analyse the cause and effect relationships of the Eight-hour Day movement. 

Students suggest keywords to describe each of the columns in the matrix, using the following as prompts:


  • Identify the main grievance that the workers wanted to address.


  • Include examples of the strategies used by the workers, for example demonstration or protest.


  • Identify how quality of life changed for workers as a result of the Eight-hour Day movement.


Activity 2a | Activity 2b | Activity 2cActivity 2d |

People Power Introduction2. Eight-Hour Day

Overview of Activities: Focus Question 2 | Teacher Information