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Focus question 2: How did groups of Australian workers bring about improvements in their working conditions?

Teaching and learning activities

Activity 1: Tuning in (20 min) ESL Activity 1
Activity 2: Introduction to the Eight-hour Day movement (15 min) ESL Activity 2
Activity 3: The Eight-hour Day Men (30 min) ESL Activity 3
Activity 4: Eight-hour Day role-plays (60 min) ESL Activity 4
Activity 5: A working man in parliament (20 min) ESL Activity 5
Activity 6: Celebrating the Eight-hour Day movement (90 min) ESL Activity 6
Activity 7: Rounding up (40 min) ESL Activity 7
Assessment ESL Assessment
Further activity  

Activity 1: Tuning in (20 min)

1a Conduct a class discussion about what the students do in their 'spare' time. List popular activities on the board.

1b Sketch the following '24 hours' table on the board.

Table 3     24 hours

My day (today)      
What if ?      

1c Ask students to calculate the number of hours:

  • they will be at school today
  • they will (probably) sleep tonight
  • remaining for play (and eating etc).

1d Students should copy the table into their 'People Power' journals, and fill in their hours of school, play and sleep in the 'My day' row.

Insert typical hours into the 'My day' row on the table, on the board.

1e Ask students to imagine this scenario: What if school hours were two hours longer each day?

  • Write the extended number of school hours (eg 7.30) into the appropriate cell in the 'What if...?' row on the board table.
  • Ask students what the consequences of this would be for their hours of sleep and play. How do they feel about shorter hours of play?
  • Ask students to fill in new shorter hours of sleep and play in the 'What if...?'row
    in the '24 hours' table in their journals.

Activity 2: Introduction to the Eight-hour Day movement
(15 min)


2a Display the Eight-hour Day Movement poster. Draw attention to the slogan on the banner in Item 9.

This is another story about 'People Power'. It's the story of working men in the 1850s who joined together to campaign for shorter hours of work. They wanted a better quality of life. Their slogan was:

'Eight hours labour, Eight hours recreation, Eight hours rest'.

2b Write 'Eight-hour Day movement' in the 'Event' column of the 'People Power' matrix.

Handout 4 2c Provide a brief outline of the context of the Eight-hour Day movement, using an OHT of Handout 4. These men lived and worked in Australia about 150 years ago.

  • Identify the men's jobs. (Clue: Look at each worker's tools and materials.) The jobs are, clockwise from the top left, builder (stonemason), bootmaker, mechanic, roofer, baker, blacksmith, carpenter.
  • Some workers wanted:

    Shorter working hours: Many employers demanded ten or more hours per day, six days per week.

    Trade unions: Workers support one another, and bargain as a group with employers to improve working conditions and wages.

    Working men in parliament: Men who did not own land or have much money were unable to vote or stand for election to parliament in most colonies. The rules were changed in Victoria after the miners' struggle at Eureka in 1854.

Activity 3: The Eight-hour Day Men (30 min)

Handout 5 3a Read the fictionalised account of the Melbourne Eight-hour Day movement below then distribute Handout 5 (one between two) for students to complete the story. Students listen for information about, and take notes on:

  • the injustice the workers experienced
  • the action taken by the Eight-hour Day Men.

The Eight-hour Day Men

James Stephens is my name. One of my friends is also called James. He's James Galloway. Some people call us the 'Eight-hour Day Men'.

Yesterday, 12 May 1856, was a wonderful day for us. With most of the working men of Melbourne and their families we celebrated the gaining of the Eight-hour Day. Let me tell you how we achieved this, and why it is so important for all workers. Then I'll tell you about our grand celebration, which ended with the biggest fireworks displays ever seen in Melbourne.

James and I immigrated to Victoria during the goldrush. I'm from Wales, he's from Scotland. We're stonemasons - we cut and shape huge blocks of stone for Melbourne's great public buildings, and put them into position. Sometimes we work on scaffolding high above the ground. Once I fell ten metres to the ground from unsafe scaffolding.

These public buildings are built of sandstone on foundations of 'bluestone', which is volcanic rock. It's very, very hard to cut. Sandstone is softer, but it has to be worked into fine shapes and decorations. We are very proud of our skills.

3b Read the remainder of the story from Handout 5. Examine the ten-hour day background to the Eight-hour Day movement. Direct attention to paragraph 1, which describes James Stephens' ten-hour working day. As a class construct on the board a 24-hour timeline of James Stephens' day.

  • Why did James Stephens think his hours of work should be made shorter?
  • Can you suggest a few words to describe the injustice of a ten-hour day for builders' labourers?

3c Ask students to write in their journals (under the heading 'Eight-hour Day movement'):

  • what the Eight-hour Men wanted
  • why this was important to them
  • what the students think - should people work only eight-hour days? Why?

Activity 4: Eight-hour Day role-plays (60 min)

Handout 5 4a Organise students into six groups to prepare a simple dramatisation of the actions of the Eight-hour Day Men. Using Handout 5 allocate a section of the story to each group.

  • Groups should read their section of the story and prepare a short play (about two minutes) in which:
    • each student has a role
    • students make up dialogue that shows the knowledge they have gained from the story.
Making a cartoon strip could be an alternative activity for the Eight-hour Day story.

4b After the dramatisation, ask students to list three important actions that helped the Eight-hour Day Men to win shorter working hours in their journals.

4c Complete the 'Action' cell in the 'Eight-hour Day movement' row in the 'People Power' matrix. Ask students to suggest a few words to describe the action taken by the Eight-hour Day Men. Add the most appropriate suggestions (eg unity, persuasion, demonstration, strike) to the matrix.

4d Relate this story to the lives of adults we know, by setting a homework task.

  • Each student is to ask an adult to describe the main activities of a 'typical' day. Students should present their data in a 24-hour timeline (or pie graph) in their journals. The findings will be used in Activity 7c.

Activity 5: A working man in parliament (20 min)

5a Read the following story.

A working man in parliament

The stonemasons were very pleased with their success in the Eight-hour Day campaign, but they knew they had been lucky. Most of the builders had agreed to shorter hours because in the 1850s there were many big building projects in Melbourne, paid for with wealth from the goldfields. The builders could afford to employ more workers.

But workers in other industries were still working ten or more hours a day. The stonemasons decided to use another strategy in the Eight-hour campaign, in addition to persuasion and strike action. They formed a group to plan the election to parliament of a representative of the working class.

In 1857 working men in Melbourne elected Charles Don to the Parliament of Victoria. He was the first working man elected to a parliament in Australia. Charles Don was able to help the Eight-hour movement by persuading parliament to agree that all workers employed on government contracts work an eight-hour day. So now more workers had a shorter working day.

5b Conduct a short discussion on Don's role in the Eight-hour Day movement. Add 'The election to parliament of a worker's representative' to the 'Action' cell in the matrix.

Activity 6: Celebrating the Eight-hour Day movement (90 min)

6a Explain that Australia and New Zealand were the first countries in the world in which workers won shorter hours. The workers were very proud of their success in the Eight-hour campaign. Workers in all colonies (now the states and territories) celebrated:

Poster 6b Display the Eight-hour Day Movement poster.

6c Distribute copies of Handout 6 (one between two students).

Handout 6

  • Direct attention to the dates when some workers won the Eight-hour Day. On what date this year is/was the Eight-hour Day remembered in our State or Territory? Why do you think the success of the Eight-hour Day movement is still remembered one hundred or more years after it happened?

6d Prepare art materials (sheets of paper and paints or markers).

  • Organise students to design an Eight-hour Day graphic as outlined on Handout 6.

6e Arrange for students to show and explain their products.

Activity 7: Rounding up (40 min)

7a Complete the 'Eight-hour Day movement' row on the 'People Power' matrix. Ask students to suggest a few words to describe the results of the Eight-hour Day movement. Consequences should include 'shorter working day', 'better quality of life', 'a worker in parliament' etc.

Handout 6 Poster

7b Using the Eight-hour Day Movement poster and 'The next steps' information on Handout 6, draw students' attention to further outcomes of the movement:

After the success of the Eight-hour Day movement, working men continued their campaign for a better quality of life. By the 1960s most men worked eight hours a day for five days, and received a fair minimum wage, higher pay for overtime etc.

7c Examine current patterns of work. In a class discussion ask students to share the information they collected on an adult's day (Activity 4d):

  • Does 'eight hours labour, eight hours recreation and eight hours rest' still apply today?
  • What does this mean for the quality of life of workers today?
  • Can you think of any benefits for workers today of the Eight-hour Day movement?


Assess students' understanding of the Eight-hour Day movement using their journal entries. The student can:

Further activity

Students could investigate a current work issue, eg the trend towards 12-hour working days, and design a cartoon, badge or sticker that communicates a message about the issue.

ESL activities

Back to 'People Power - At a glance'

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