The Engineering Union wins the 44 hour week – 1927

Today we are remembering the Amalgamated Engineering Union’s (AEU) campaign to win the 44-hour week back in 1927.

Unions have always campaigned for a decent work/life balance for working people.

This goes all the way back to 1856 when construction unions in Melbourne and Sydney won the eight-hour day as an industry standard for the first time anywhere in the world.

During the First World War the dangerous and difficult work led to the 44-hour week being introduced in some industries.

But some employers and conservative politicians hated this.

When the Arbitration Court awarded the 44-hour week to engineers and timber workers in 1920, the Federal Government brought in laws to stop it – even going so far as to change the composition of the court itself!

Some employers discriminated against those unionists who tried to enforce their right to the 44-hour week, and successfully applied to the new court to increase hours back to 48 a week.

In Newcastle, BHP shut their steel mill for six months from 1921-1922 rather than grant its workers the 44-hour week. But the workers persisted.

The 1927 decision was prompted when the Amalgamated Engineering Union applied for a federal award for the industry which included the 44-hour week.

After four months of intense debate between the union and employer advocates, in which 145 witnesses were called and heard, the Court ruled in favour of the AEU, and the 44-hour week.

It was a significant milestone in the campaign for the shorter working week – but not the end.

In 1939 union campaigning led to the 44-hour week become standard across industries.

Less than a decade later the 40-hour week would become standard.

In 1981, the metal workers’ union won the 38 hour week.

But as workers today know, we still have to campaign for the right to a decent work/life balance.

This is exactly what unions have done for as long as we have been around – so you can trust we will keep on campaigning in the time to come. 

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