A History of Working Time

Nowhere in the history of mankind has there ever been a period of sustained idyll, where working hours for an entire population have been short. A lifetime’s leisure in comfort and prosperity has always been the privilege of the very few – and then often with the aid of slavery or those living at a subsistence level.  Only in modern times has time-off become a right most people can afford to enjoy.

Some historians and economists have claimed that in medieval times the European peasant could expect to work only 150 days a year. But these were feudal times and that period of effectively forced labour was for their manorial lord – leaving their true labour on their own behalf for their remaining time, with little option but to perform it through manual toil.

Before the advent of modern domestic aids the amount of housework required – even for a small family – was formidable. For it had to include such tasks as spinning, weaving, collecting water and fuel and undertaking animal husbandry. Moreover, In many parts of the third world this burden remains.

Thus, at first, industrialisation did not greatly increase the sum of human labour, but did introduce greater hazards and work monotonies. It also exchanged the harshness of rural weather conditions for the polluted world of the early factory system. Change came slowly in Europe and every reform was hard won. The fact that it happened at all was partly due to the courageous endeavours of those such as Robert Owen and Robert Lowes who used their positions to win small, progressive concessions. But many working time reforms owed both their initial acceptance and eventual progression to leading quaker families behind enterprises that included Barclays bank, Cadburys, Bryant and May, Clarks Shoes, Waterford Crystal and even the Sony corporation in Japan. It was only in the early years of the twentieth century that regulating working time became a focus for left-wing politicians – and they often required the benevolence of paternalistic conservatives to achieve their aims.

The history of working time laws 1784-2017

Some of the key events that have shaped the development of working time measures in Europe and beyond:

Date Event
1784 Ten-hour day proposed at Manchester Quarter Sessions (England)
1802 First Factory Act (Health and Morals of Apprentices)
1815 Foundation in England of the ‘Ten Hours Movement’.
1818 Robert Owen presented a petition to the five leading European powers meeting at the congress of Aix-la-Chapelle. The document asked for the establishment of working hours restrictions throughout Europe in order to stop unfair competition. His submission was rejected as ‘lunatic’.
1819, British Factory Acts (not enforced)
1831, 1833 British Factory Act : Under 21s not allowed to work at night in cotton mills. Under 18s not allowed to work longer than 12 hours (9 hours on Saturday). Robert Owen begins to experiment with a co-operative system based on labour working time tokens.
1843 Ten-hour Day Act (normal working day)
1840 First strike for an eight-hour day – Wellington, New Zealand.
1841 French law limiting the hours worked by children in mines (not applied in practice).
1842 The first child labour law introduced in the USA. This regulated working hours in Massachusetts.
1844 British Factory Act: maximum working day of 12 hours for adults and 6.5 hours for children.
1847 Ten Hour Act
1850 British Factory Act: Limits for women and children introduced. Employment permissible between 6.00 am and 6.00 pm (later in winter) on weekdays and until 2.00 pm on Saturdays.
1868 US congress passed a law limiting daily working time to eight hours for federal employees.
1874 British Factory Act: Reduction of half an hour each day for textile workers.
1890 Berlin conference on working time. Resolutions on child labour, women and children in mining, and night work.
1897 ‘Eight-hour day’ strike by engineers
1899 Eight-hour day for all government workers – Puerto Rico.
1900 Foundation of the International Association for Labour.
1905 Berne Convention on night work for women
1911 Swiss federal code of obligations sets certain entitlements and safeguards for holidays and other time off work.
1913 Berne Convention (draft) on night work for children
1916 Eight Hours Act – New South Wales, Australia.
1917 New revolutionary government in Russia orders universal eight-hour day.
1919 Spain introduces national eight-hour day law.
1919 ILO established as part of Paris Peace Conference. First meeting in Washington USA. Convention 1 agreed a maximum 8 hour day and maximum weekly hours of 48. ILO eventually became part of The UN.
1921 ILO Convention 14: weekly rest breaks in industry
1930 ILO Convention 30: hours of work in commerce and offices
1935 ILO Convention 47: 40-hour week
1936 French laws introduced by labour minister Jean-Baptiste Lebas provided two-weeks paid vacation each year and a 40-hour week.
1938 US Fair Labor Standards Act introduces a standard workweek of 40 hours and pay at time and a half for overtime hours. The Act does not apply to all employees.
1948 ILO Convention 89: night work for women (revised Convention 4)
1949 Public holidays in Italy first listed in Law 260/1949.
1970 ILO Convention 132: holidays with pay (revised)
1975 EC Council Recommendation on the 40-hour maximum working week and 4 weeks paid holiday. (75/457/EEC)
1976 Finland introduces seamens’ working hours Act
1979 ILO Convention 153: hours of work and rest periods in road transport
1985 Common EC statutory limits for heavy goods vehicle and public service vehicle drivers
1993 (Nov 23rd) EC Directive on working time (93/104/EC). 48-hour week limitation (averaged), but with voluntary opt out by employees in some member states.
1994 (Jun 22nd) EC Directive on the protection of young people at work (94/33/EC). 40-hour week limitation on 16/17 year old adolescents who are not in full time education.
1996 ILO Convention 180: seafarers’ hours of work and the manning of ships.
1996 EC Directive on parental leave requirements
1997 EC Directive on part-time work
1998 Revised EC Regulation on working and rest time (transport)
1999 EC Directive on seafarers’ hours of work
2000 EC Directive on working time in civil aviation
2000 Loi Aubry becomes mandatory in France. This sets a maximum normal working week of 35 hours in all companies employing over 20 people. The Aubry II that was passed in 2000 extended the 35-hour week to employees in small companies and to some managers (cadres).
2000 SIMAP ruling by the European Court of Justice. All hours spent in residence and on call must count as working time.
2001 BECTU ruling by the European Court of Justice. This confirmed as unlawful any qualifying period before a new employee could build up entitlements for statutory paid annual leave.
2002 EC directive on mobile road transport activities
2002 Extension of EC working time restrictions (offshore workers and doctors in training)
2003 New consolidated Working Time Directive (2003/88/EC).
2003 Jaeger ruling by the European Court of Justice. If an employee is required to be present at the workplace, or otherwise at the disposal of their employer for a period between two shifts then the rest period must be classified as working time.
2006 July 11th: German Federal Labour Court ruled that travel time may be treated as a break if transport is by public transport and employer does not give work to be performed during trip.
2007 French National assembly passes bill that promotes overtime working.
2010 Australia – Statutory normal 38-hour workweek
2015 European Court of Justice Decision concerning the working time of mobile workers with no fixed workplace.
2015/16 Several Swedish companies have introduced a 6-hour day

Copyright: FedEE CSL 2018