By Mark Brolly
4 March 2022
A Melbourne Anglican priest is organising a service marking a 166-year-old social breakthrough that he says is “a dangerous memory” for the modern world.
The Reverend Canon Stephen Ames is planning the event at the Eight-Hour monument, opposite the Victorian Trades Hall, on the eve of Labour Day.
It will commemorate the institution of the regulated eight-hour day in Victoria after a protest by stonemasons, who became some of the first workers in the world to routinely enjoy this.
The eight-hour working day was introduced on 21 April 1856, after stonemasons marched on Parliament House in the February of that year.
Their slogan was: “Eight hours’ work, eight hours’ rest, eight hours’ recreation”. After weeks of protest, they became the first workers in the world to achieve a 48-hour working week: eight hours, six days a week.
Mr Ames said Labour Day and the Eight-Hour movement had continuing significance of the need to keep a balanced life in mind, saying people did not have to work a 40-hour week.
“There is a need for a better balance of life than we have at the moment,” he said.
“The Eight-Hour Day movement brings to mind the famous saying of Jesus that man was not made for the Sabbath but the Sabbath for man.
“It’s a dangerous memory and a symbol of getting a better balance in life, whatever that may be. The gig economy is not it and wage theft is not it and uncertainty of work is not it. There is no long-term certainty of a stable work environment for many people.”
Mr Ames said the service was the first of its kind, and had been endorsed by the Victorian Council of Churches. He hoped it could become an interfaith event from 2023.
It came after the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, Sally McManus, contacted the VCC late last year, saying the union movement wanted better connections with religious traditions.
Separately, Mr Ames had suggested the Eight-Hour Day event to VCC executive officer, the Reverend Ian Smith, who took it to the VCC’s social questions committee, which endorsed the proposal.
Mr Ames said COVID-19 had shown that occupations such as aged care workers and teachers were often overworked and underpaid.
“[Socio-economic disorder] extends to many things, such as social housing, which has been neglected for decades by governments of all persuasions,” he said.
“This is not some party-political thing, there is a need to take a stand on how our economy and society are ordered.”
Priested in 1970, Mr Ames has served in the parishes of Deepdene and Clifton Hill-North Fitzroy, as well as working in theological and secular education.
He once successfully moved that the Melbourne Synod commend tram workers on the service they provided, and ask then Archbishop Robert Dann to write to the union informing them of the resolution. Mr Ames said this the letter was read out to the workers and, received with great acclamation.
The Eight-Hour Day service will be held at 7pm on Sunday 13 March, at the Eight-Hour Day Monument, opposite Melbourne’s Trades Hall.