Workers' rights today
Since the stonemasons won the 8-hour working day in 1856, some important changes have taken place in the Australian labour market. Perhaps the most important – and definitely the most debated – was the introduction of the Howard government's Work Choices package in 2006.
Work Choices proposed major changes to industrial relations legislation that was developed over 150 years of negotiation between employers and employees.
It ignited fierce debate all over the country, as organisations and individuals fought both for and against the proposed changes.
Melbourne photographer and artist Grant Hobson was one of many people who publicly responded to the introduction of Work Choices. He created Industry of Working (2006), a series of posters that he displayed in galleries and on building sites around Melbourne:
I used flour and water to mix a paste and went about pasting them up on the walls... by doing that, people that don't normally attend galleries...would be able to actually see the work ... and think about the images and about the text as they go about their normal business.
– Grant Hobson
G Hobson, State Library of Victoria interview, 21 June 2007.
In this series, Hobson paired photographs of retrenched Melbourne factory workers with titles like 'independent opinion' and 'mutual obligation' – words and phrases taken directly from Work Choices policy documents.
One of the posters, James Stephens 1856 – John Howard 2006, is a comment on the progress Australia has made in the 150 years since James Stephens and the stonemasons won the right to an 8-hour working day in 1856.
As was the case in the 1850s during the 8-hour movement, public debate in all its forms continues to be an essential part of the struggle for workers rights in Australia.