History of Working Time

History of Working Time Regulations

History of Working Time until 1920

The decade following 1910 witnessed a rapid advance and extension in the already widespread movement in favour of the reduction of the hours of labour. This was mainly due, apart from general trade-union pressure, firstly to the repercussions of the World War and of experience of industry under war conditions, and, secondly, to the international recognition of the principle of the 8-hour day in the Treaty of Peace of Versailles as one of the “principles . . . well fitted to guide the policy of the League of Nations .”

Until the outbreak of the World War the movement in favour of the reduction of hours, and particularly in favour of the 8-hour day, had gone forward but only slowly and spasmodically. International conferences of workers passed the ordinary resolutions demanding the 8-hour day, as did the International Socialist Conference of 1910, the International Textile Workers’ Conference in 1911 and the eighth Congress of Trade Union Secretaries in 1913. In 1912 the International Association for Labour Legislation asked for a 56-hour week for glass-workers, an 8-hour day for the iron and steel trades, for workers in paper and pulp mills and in the manufacture of chemicals. In the following year the Miners’ International Congress demanded the day of eight hours “bank to bank.” The official delegates of the Berne Conference in 1913 contented themselves with a proposal to limit the hours of child workers to 10 daily?-?a proposal which the International Association for Labour Legislation adopted in 1918, with the suggestion that part of the working day should be devoted to trade Education . The Berne Conference further suggested a 10-hour day for women workers.

The comparatively moderate nature of the majority of these pre-war proposals?-?and indeed of certain later ones, such as that of the Congress of Inter-Allied Trade Unions at Leeds in 1916, which asked for the 10-hour day, and that of the International Trade Union Congress held at Berne in 1917, which demanded that the daily maximum should be gradually reduced to 8 hours?-?would hardly have prepared the student of these matters for the very striking advances which became operative in the chief industrial countries between the Armistice and 1921. The advance is also to be noted in recent expressions of trade union opinion, in the movement for the 7- and even for the 6-hour day in coal-mining, and in such pronouncements as that of so influential an employer as Lord Leverhulme in England, who in 1918 himself advocated the 6-hour day on economic grounds.

The outbreak of war had been followed in all the belligerent countries by the suspension of all limitations upon the hours of labour worked in industries of importance in the conduct of the .war, whether these limitations arose from agreements with the trade unions, from legislation or from custom. In all cases the general course of events was the same. After some difficulty, varying in degree with the imminence of the threat to national safety and with the strength of trade unionism, the workers consented, were persuaded by tempting rates of wages, or were coerced to lengthen the working day. In all cases, after the experience of a period of excessively long hours, it was found that the returns from overtaxed labour rapidly diminished, and in all cases limitations were sooner or later re-imposed, not, however, reducing hours to the pre-war standards, but calculated to yield the highest return in output from the personnel available.

War experience would thus seem to have effectively killed the long-lived notion that output in industry varies directly with the number of hours worked. The argument in favour of the shorter working day was indeed formidably (and perhaps unexpectedly in certain quarters) strengthened by the scientific investigation of hours in relation to output, which was undertaken, by Great Britain and America in particular, in the height of the desperate struggle to produce adequate supplies of munitions of war. The results of the British investigations, published in the various reports of the Health of Munition Workers Committee (appointed by the Ministry of Munitions in Sept. 1915) and of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, were of the highest scientific value, and these, corroborated by the evidence of American, French and German experience, and themselves corroborating much of the argument of certain investigators whose work had been done before the war, undoubtedly were an important factor in determining the attitude of mind which is reflected in the above quoted “principle” enshrined in the Treaty of Peace.

War experience did, in point of fact, supply the scientific basis which the general propaganda, carried on for so long by the organizations of workers in all industrial countries in favour of the reduction of hours, had lacked. Such scientific data as existed had been provided or interpreted for the most part by writers on so-called “scientific management” who were concerned primarily with questions of output. Governmental investigations had to consider output in relation to the labour available, and were led inevitably to considerations of the health of workers and even of their satisfaction or dissatisfaction. In other words, whilst previous investigations were, rightly or wrongly, suspected by workers generally to be directed by motives which, if not hostile, tended at least to a certain neglect of the workers’ side of the case, the war investigations were much more widely accepted as being a fair attempt at an adequate study of the question of hours in relation not only to output but also to the effect on the worker.

It need only be added here that the general result of those investigations was that a reduction of hours was not incompatible with an increase in output, arising from the improved health of the worker and his increased capacity for effort during the shorter hours worked.

The war, however, was responsible for another and perhaps even more effective factor in the eventual restriction of hours. The repercussions of the successive Russian revolutions were everywhere felt and everywhere dreaded. It became a commonplace of polemic on the subject of improved conditions of labour that such improved conditions (including the reduction of the hours of labour) were the alternative to Bolshevism. Thus scientific experience, fear of revolutionary movements and the normal liberalism of the nations successful in the war were united in support of a general reduction in the hours of labour at the moment of relief and optimism which succeeded, in the later months of 1918, the long and oppressive years of warfare.

The results of this combination are to be found in the rapid extension of legal restrictions upon the hours of labour which took place in many of the belligerent countries immediately upon (or even before) the Armistice of Nov. 1918, and in the inclusion in the Treaties of peace of the “Labour Part” (Part XIII. in the Treaty of Versailles) which creates machinery for international legislation upon labour conditions, and which recognizes the 8-hour day as an end to be pursued by international action.

In the middle of 1921 signs were indeed not lacking that a characteristic of the next few years might be a reaction in this connexion. Hopes of rapid recovery to the economic position of pre-war days had been disappointed, and there was a manifest tendency to place part of the blame for this upon the reduced hours of labour. It can only be noted here that this reaction seemed likely to result in a check to the movement for a further reduction in hours of labour.

National Measures

National legislation for the limitation of the hours of labour has taken various forms. In some cases, e.g. France, Spain, Portugal, acts or decrees have prescribed a general limitation for all workers, or for all workers in large groups of occupations such as “industry”or “commerce,” whilst the detailed application has been left to be elaborated by administrative decrees or orders. Usually these decrees are issued after consultation with the organized workers and employers concerned, and they appear to result in a considerable elasticity in the application of the law. In other cases (e.g. Netherlands, Czechoslovakia, Belgium) the act itself is made to apply to a detailed list of industries, and the exceptions are usually indicated. Again, as in the case of Great Britain (Coal Mines Act) a special Act may regulate the hours worked in a particular industry.

Another group of legislative measures deals with the hours of labour of specified classes of workers, women and children and men, engaged in hazardous occupations. In Great Britain the Factory Acts have attempted to regulate the hours of women and children, who were regarded as being less favourably situated for “free bargaining” than men, but it was not until 1908 that legal restrictions were placed upon the working hours of the latter, and then only in the case of a single industry, coal-mining, which was of a peculiarly difficult and laborious nature.

A third type of legislation secures the aim of limiting hours of labour by indirect means. In the Commonwealth of Australia, for example, and in its constituent states, the Arbitration Laws provide for the Settlement of Disputes in labour matters (including disputes about the hours of labour) by a process of arbitration and the legal enforcement of arbitration awards. Again, in the case of Germany and some other countries, collective agreements arrived at voluntarily between employers and workers’ organizations may under certain conditions be given the force of law.

There remains to be noted the huge mass of collective agreement upon hours of labour which, though not always possessing the force of law, does in fact regulate hours very successfully in many countries. This is notably the method adopted for most industries in Great Britain, but the practice is common even in countries where legislative limits are enforced. In these cases the collective agreement is usually an advance, from the workers’ point of view, upon the provisions of the existing legislation.

The analysis, given later, of the position in 1921 in the more important industrial countries of the world will illustrate these methods of limitation.

(a) Exceptions of a General Nature.?-?All national legislation on the subject of hours provides for exceptions of a general nature, affecting the whole field of application of the legislation, as well as for exceptions in particular cases.

To provide for the former class of exceptions, which may be classified as those arising from national necessity, clauses are usually inserted which give the administration power to suspend or relax temporarily the regulations normally in force. In the case of the draft International Convention (see later) it is provided that “the operation of the provisions of this Convention may be suspended in any country by the Government in the event of war or other emergency endangering the national safety” (Article 14). From national legislation the following may be cited:?-?“Extension of the working hours shall be permitted in cases of urgent public necessity, mobilization, fire, flood, landslips, explosion, grave disaster, in all cases of force majeure . . . ” (Portugal; Decree of May 7 1919, limiting the hours of work in commercial and industrial establishments).

“His Majesty may, in the event of war, or of imminent national danger, or great emergency . . . by order in Council suspend the operation of this Act to such extent and for such period as may be named in the Order either as respects all coal mines or any class of coal mines” (Great Britain: Coal Mines Regulation Act, 1908).

(b) Exceptions in Particular Cases.?-?Experience of the working of national legislation has proved that a priori arguments against the possibility of a universal application of the 8-hour day or even of a uniform day of greater length were largely justified, and much elasticity has been conceded in the administration of hours of labour acts. Both national and international legislation has been obliged to provide for certain exceptions in particular cases, which may be classified as those which arise (1) from considerations of the worker himself or herself, (2) from the size of the industrial undertaking, (3) from the nature of the work, (4) from the situation of the country concerned with regard to climatic conditions, character of population, or other factor rendering it abnormal from an industrial point of view, and (5) from exceptional circumstances.

(1) In the first class may be placed those exceptions which are provided for domestic industries and small establishments where only members of the same family are employed. The fact that exception is made for such cases is due to a recognition of the great difficulty of supervising the application of any regulations. So far, international labour legislation has admitted exceptional treatment for these classes of workers. It is generally considered, both in national and international legislation, that certain persons, even in factories where a minimum day is legally enforced, should be exempt from its provisions because of their relations to the employer. Managers and persons holding posts of responsibility or of confidence are generally thus exempt, and in some national legislation sons or other close relatives of the employer are similarly excluded from the application of the regulations. Again, in all countries which have adopted legislation on hours of labour, women and young persons are exceptionally treated.

(2) As to the size of the industrial undertaking, different standards have been adopted. Whilst in Sweden concerns employing not more than four workers are exempt from the application of the Eight-hour Act of 1919 (save where such concerns are situated in towns with a population of over 1,500), in Japan 15 is the number of employees requisite to bring an undertaking within the scope of the Factory Act, and in India it was 20 until 1921, when the number was reduced to ten. Here again the great difficulty is that of the inspection and supervision of small isolated concerns, but a complicating factor lies in their frequent close connexion with agriculture, which results in their sharing to some degree in the seasonal character of the latter. This reason appears to have been influential in deciding the attitude of the Swiss Government towards the International Convention on the 8-hour day and the 48-hour week.

(3) The third class of exceptions, it has been stated, are connected with the nature of the work. The case which appears to have presented most difficulty in national legislation is the continuous process. In many industries (e.g. iron and steel, paper, glass, gold-refining, etc.) processes are employed which take long periods for their completion, and which cannot be intermitted without damage to or total loss of the material operated upon. In such cases work is organized in shifts, frequently 3 shifts of 8 hours each per day, but also frequently 2 shifts of 12 hours. Whilst the former plan achieves the 8-hour day, it does not of itself achieve the 48-hour week (for work is continued through 7 days per week). A certain elasticity is required to facilitate changes of shift, which frequently results in a week of more than 48 hours alternating with a week or possibly two weeks of less than 48. In other cases the process, whilst not being continuous in the strict sense of the word, is yet longer than the normal working day of 8 hours. The arrangement of shifts for such cases presents further difficulties for which exceptions must be provided.

The International Convention on hours permits a 56-hour week in “those processes which are required by reason of the nature of the process to be carried on continuously by a succession of shifts.”

The opposite case is where the work is of so intermittent a nature that it is felt that a longer day may be worked without injury to the worker. It is difficult to define exactly what is meant by this “intermittence.” The work of a gatekeeper or watchman who has no other duties may be instanced, but there are border-line cases which are treated differently in different legislations. Is a railway porter’s or a signalman’s work intermittent? Obviously generalization is impossible. The Washington meeting of the International Labour Conference tried to meet such cases by permitting the legislative authorities to allow permanent exceptions where the work is “essentially intermittent,” but insisting at the same time, first, that regulations, to be drawn up after consultation with the organizations of workers and employers concerned, should fix the maximum number of additional hours to be permitted, and, second, that the check of compulsory overtime pay at a rate of at least “time and a quarter” should be imposed to guard against any further overstepping of the bounds thus extended.

For national legislation the Netherlands Hours of Work and Dangerous Trades Act (Nov. 1 1919) may be quoted:?-?“Men who do no other work than that of watching may do such work during 10 hours a day and 60 hours a week. . . .” Section 25 (2b).

The Swiss Hours of Work on Railways Act similarly provides, in section 3 (2), “In the case of certain employments, specified in the Supplementary Regulations, which consist mainly in being in attendance at a given place, the average hours of work may be extended to nine hours.” The Czechoslovakian law (Eight-Hours Act of 1918) makes similar extensions for “persons engaged in irregular service such as the supervision and watching of houses and undertakings, and looking after animals.”

Seasonal industries form a further category under this heading. Both national and international legislation permit extension of the working day in industries engaged upon material susceptible of rapid deterioration, or material which is available at certain seasons only and which must be treated immediately. Similarly, industries dependent upon weather conditions are usually allowed considerable elasticity in the daily or weekly total of working hours. The Swedish Eight-hour Act (Oct. 17 1919) provides, e.g. that “if working hours are dependent in a material degree upon the seasons or the weather, or if they are of varying length by reason of these or any other conditions, the Labour Council may, to such extent as may be found necessary, authorize a system of working hours differing from that established in §4 (i.e. the 8 and 48 rule), provided that the aggregate working hours over a period not exceeding four weeks shall not in any case be more than the number of hours corresponding to 48 hours per week.” This device of averaging the weekly hours over a period is fairly common, and has been adopted in international legislation. Article 5 of the Washington Draft Convention lays down that in exceptional cases where the ordinary rule cannot be applied, a Government may give the force of law to agreements between workers’ and employers’ organizations which permit an extension of the daily limit, provided that “the average number of hours worked per week, over the number of weeks covered by any such agreement, shall not exceed 48.”

In the regulation of hours of labour in commerce, similar exceptions are frequently provided for hotels and restaurants at certain periods of the year. International legislation has so far not dealt with commerce, but with regard to seasonal industries similar proposals are made in the Washington Draft Convention to those outlined above in the case of “intermittent” work.

Exceptions are usually provided in connexion with what is known as “preparatory and complementary” work. There is frequently the necessity of the earlier attendance in factories of a certain number of the personnel whose work must be done before the general work can commence; there are others, similarly, who must continue after the conclusion of the general work. Cases in point are the engineers and other workers in the engine-room of a factory. In some national legislation, and in international legislation, exceptional provision is made for such workers; limitations are, however, usually laid down, as in the case of the Netherlands Hours of Work and Dangerous Trades Act of Nov. 1 1919, section 25 (2 a), which provides that “men and women who have to prepare workrooms, tools and appliances before the commencement of the day’s work or who have to attend to them at the conclusion of the same may do such work . . . during not more than 10 hours a day, provided that women do not work more than 51 hours and men not more than 57 hours in a week. . . .”

(4) The fourth class of exceptions arises in international legislation, where it has been found necessary, in order to attempt a rough equation between countries dissimilarly situated with regard to climate, character of population or other industrial factor, to permit a longer working day in the one than in the other. Thus in the Washington Convention, a 57-hour (60 hours in the raw silk industry) week is permitted for Japan, and a 60-hour week for British India, and elasticity is provided in the application of the Convention to “colonies, protectorates and possessions not fully self-governing” for “such modifications as may be necessary to adapt its provisions to local conditions.”

(5) The circumstances which, under national and international legislation, permit of the temporary suspension of the general application of the limitation of hours have already been treated. Some national legislations consider that the danger to an industry arising from the pressure of foreign competition is a sufficient warrant for the relaxation of rules in its particular case. Thus the Swiss Factory Act allows “a weekly duration of work of 52 hours if urgent reasons justify this measure, and so long as these urgent reasons hold good, particularly if . . . an industry runs the risk of being unable to withstand competition on account of the duration of work time in other countries” (Section 41). And an Article in the Swedish Act seems to have in view the same (among other) circumstances: “If the application of this Act involves such difficulties in the case of any particular work or undertaking as to jeopardize the continu- ance of the same, the King may . . . authorize an exemption from the application of this Act such as the circumstances may require.”

An Example

Estimated Average Weekly Hours Worked in the United States

Year Manufacturing Construction Railroads Bituminous Coal Anthracite Coal
1850s about 66 about 66
1870s about 62 about 60
1890 60.0 51.3
1900 59.6 50.3 52.3 42.8 35.8
1910 57.3 45.2 51.5 38.9 43.3
1920 51.2 43.8 46.8 39.3 43.2
1930 50.6 42.9 33.3 37.0
1940 37.6 42.5 27.8 27.2
1955 38.5 37.1 32.4 31.4

Sources: Douglas (1930), Jones (1963), Licht (1983), and Tables 1 and 2.

Further Developments

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
(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.
(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.
(Jun 3rd)
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.
2007 French National assembly passes bill that promotes overtime working.

History of Working Time in several Countries

United Kingdom.?-?See History of Working Time in the United Kingdom.
Australia.?-?The position as regards hours of labour is determined in Australia by (1) Factory and Shop Acts, (2) Early Closing Acts, (3) decisions of arbitration courts and boards, including those of the Federal Arbitration Court, (4) direct legislation such as the Mines Act of the various states, and (5) collective agreements. The 8-hour day (or less) and the 48-hour week (or less) are practically universal in industry and commerce.

The Factory Acts date from 1900 in Queensland (amended several times subsequently), 1904 in Western Australia (amended 1912), 1907 in South Australia (amended 1908, 1910 and 1915), 1910 and 1911 in Tasmania, 1912 in New South Wales and 1915 in Victoria. The principal Early Closing Acts are those of 1899, 1900, 1906, 1910 and 1915 in New South Wales, of 1911 and 1912 in South Australia, of 1902, 1904 (two Acts), 1911 and 1912 (a consolidating Act) in Western Australia, and of 1911 and 1913 in Tasmania. In addition to these New South Wales has an Eight-hours Act of 1916, amended 1920, and Acts of 1910 and 1916 relating to the Saturday half-holiday and Sunday rest. Each state has mining legislation regulating hours amongst other conditions of labour in mines. Generally speaking these provide that no underground worker and no surface worker whose duties are laborious or responsible shall work more than eight hours per day, and Sunday labour is prohibited.

Arbitration courts and boards were first created in 1912 in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia. The Acts establishing them have been in some cases frequently amended, and the courts now figure very prominently in the regulation of hours and in the Settlement of Disputes . For example, in New South Wales the Industrial Arbitration Act of 1912 directs the Court and the Boards of Arbitration that their awards must, in the case of all industries other than the coal and metalliferous mining industries, provide for working hours not longer than (1) 8 hours per day on 6 consecutive days, (2) 48 hours per week, or 96 hours in 14 consecutive days. Again, in Nov. 1920 a decision of the Federal Arbitration Board awarded the 44-hour week to a large group of industries. In New South Wales the Eight-hour (Amendment) Act of 1920 established a special court to inquire into the working hours in any industry and to consider the possible economic effects on that industry of a reduction to 44 hours per week. On April 11 1921 this court reported in favour of the 44-hour week for a large number of groups of workers, including most of those employed in the building trades, in the manufacture of food and of furniture, in the iron trades and in printing. The decisions of the court were given effect by proclamations on April 16, and they came into force on May 1 1921, with the exception of that referring to the iron trade, which became effective from May 22. Again, in Victoria, decisions of the Arbitration Commission, issued on June 19 1916 fixed limits to the working day in practically all industries, usually but not universally at eight hours.

New Zealand.?-?The Factory Act of 1901, consolidated in 1908 and amended in 1910, fixed the working hours of men at 8¾ per day and 48 per week, of women and boys at 8¼ per day and 45 per week. Since then hours in most industries have been reduced to 8 per day and 48 or less per week by agreement or by awards of the Court of Arbitration. The 44-hour week is now the rule for brewers, brick-layers, electrical workers, employees in the manufacture of furniture, plasterers, stonemasons, tailoresses, wharf-labourers and some others. Bootmakers have a 45-hour week and typographers 42. In coal-mining a 5-day week is worked alternately with a 6-day week (8 hours daily “bank to bank” ) and in gold-mining the 44-hour week is the rule. In some cases the working day has been reduced to 7 (e.g. biograph operators) or 7½ (trackmen employed on tramways).

An amendment to the Shops and Offices Act which came into force on Jan. 1 1920 reduced the weekly total of working hours for shop assistants from 52 to 48, and permitted a maximum overtime of 100 hours per annum (not more than three hours in any one day).

Canada.?-?Both collective agreements and legislation have been used in the limitation of the working day in Canada, with the result that the 48-hour week is the rule in mining, on railways, in the public utility services, the building industry, the manufacture of chemicals, tobacco, food-stuffs, paper and printing, textiles, in the oil industry, in shipbuilding, carriage building and in the metal trades (with some exceptions). Telegraphists secured the 8-hour day in 1920. British Columbia and Manitoba have legislated on the hours of women workers, and Nova Scotia on those of young persons, in each case imposing the 8 and 48 rule; in the Yukon Territory and Manitoba the same limit has been fixed by law for state employees. Alberta and British Columbia have enacted the 8-hour day in coal-mines and for furnace workers, British Columbia in metalliferous mines, and Ontario in all mining industries. The weekly hours of women workers in restaurants in Manitoba are limited to 48 by administrative order. In the other industries above mentioned the 8 and 48 limits have been secured by collective agreements.

Hours worked on Canadian railways appear to be governed largely by the practice in the United States, where the McAdoo Award gave the 8-hour day. The same rule applies to the electric tramways of British Columbia.

South Africa.?-?The hours of labour in factories are governed by the Factory Act (No. 25 of 1918) which laid down limits of 9½ hours daily and 50 hours weekly for adults and a 45-hour week for young persons under 16 years of age. The Mines and Works Act (No. 12 of 1911) provides an 8-hour day and a 48-hour week for underground workers in gold-mines.

In addition to these legal limitations, hours are regulated by a number of collective agreements, particularly in the skilled trades. The surface workers in gold-mines and underground and other workers in coal and other mines have secured the 48-hour week by agreement. Certain categories of factory workers?-?the more highly-skilled?-?have also been able to secure the 48-hour week though their working hours are legally restricted by the Factory Act.

France.?-?The 8-hour day in France began with certain employees of the State in 1901, and by 1914 it had been extended to about a third of the workers employed by the State. An inquiry made in 1906 showed that certain establishments in the chemical industries, in printing, textiles, metals and glass had adopted it, but in all only some 15,000 workers were concerned. In subsequent years the substitution of the 3- for the 2-shift system gave the 8-hour day to others, notably to furnace workers (1911), and to those engaged in the manufacture of artificial silk and aluminium. During the war the 8-hour shift was adopted in many munition establishments.

The Eight-hour Act of April 23 1919 laid down that “the effective working time of workpeople or employees of either sex and of any age shall not exceed 8 hours per day or 48 hours per week, or an equivalent limitation based upon a period of time other than the week, in industrial and commercial establishments or in business premises of any kind connected with them, whatever their nature, whether public or private, secular or religious, even where they are of a technical educational or religious nature.” The application of the law was to be by administrative decrees. A considerable number of these, applying the Act usually to certain industries, have been issued. The one of Dec. 12 1919 in reference to the textile industries will serve as a type. It provides for the limitation of the working hours to a maximum of 8 per working day in each week, but allows the weekly total of 48 hours to be so distributed as to permit of a shorter working day on Saturdays. To achieve this, a maximum of 9 hours per day may be worked. In the bleaching, dyeing and finishing branches of the industry it is possible (since a short working day is uneconomic in these processes) to distribute the 48 hours over 5 days only, with a maximum of 10 hours per day. The decree goes on to make minute provision for the extension of hours to make up for lost time due to slackness of trade (for which a maximum of 100 additional hours per year may be worked), for exceptional pressure of work (maximum 150 additional hours), for the provision of rest periods and for the keeping of registers of the hours worked. Altogether some 30 groups of trades or categories of workers have been covered by similar orders, including the more important French industries (leather and skins, books, boots and slippers, clothing, building, metal trades, hats, electricity, carriage and coach building, saddlery, etc.) and some commercial undertakings (hotels and cafes in Paris, hairdressers’ shops, etc.).

In addition to this legislative regulation, a number of other trades have secured the 8-hour day by collective agreement, some of them?-?the clothing workers, builders, textile workers in the north, and others?-?before the application of the Act to their particular industry.

France is one of the few countries which has applied the 8-hour day to seamen. This was done by a decree of Feb. 24 1920.

Italy.?-?A decree of May 15 1919 instituted the 8-hour day for workers on railways, trams and in inland waterways, and a second of June 15 1919 did the same for the State railways. Generally, however, reductions in hours of labour have been secured by collective agreements, which now cover practically every important industry, including transport and mining; for example, since April 1919 miners have worked a 7-hour day for the most part. The larger number of these collective agreements date from early in 1919. In their application the emphasis would appear to be upon the 48-hour week rather than the 8-hour day; as in France the working day is frequently extended by an hour or half-an-hour in order to permit of a shorter working day on Saturday. Most of the agreements limit the permissible number of hours which may be worked daily in excess of eight, usually to two.

Germany.?-?Regulations issued on Nov. 23 1918 respecting the hours of work of industrial workers, including those employed in transport, established the general 8-hour day. These were followed up rapidly by a series of amending orders regulating exceptional cases, and on Jan. 24 1919 by an order relating to a provisional Agricultural Labour Act, which was to give legal force to an agreement, concluded between agricultural employers and employees, regulating conditions in agriculture and prescribing an 8-hour daily average during four months of the year, a 10-hour average during four months, and an 11-hour average over the remaining four months. On the same date as that of the general order mentioned above, hours in baking and confectionery establishments were limited also to 8 daily.

The hours thus determined by legislation have, in certain cases, been still further reduced by agreement. For example, an agreement concluded between employers and workers on Jan. 22 1919 established the 8-hour day with a 6-hour Saturday for workers in the textile industry. This agreement was abandoned by the employers early in 1921, however, and new agreements have for the most part reà«stablished the week of 48 hours.

The hours of work in mines were fixed by the regulations of Nov. 23 1918 at seven daily for underground workers, but later, in view of the economic position, the miners agreed to work an additional shift (seven hours) per week.

Austria.?-?The Act of Dec. 19 1918 (reà«nacted Dec. 17 1919 with some changes) provided that “the hours of work in industrial undertakings carried on as factories shall not exceed 8 hours in 24, not including breaks in work.” The Act further limited the working hours of women and young persons to 44 in the week. Instructions issued on Feb. 12 1919 regulated the application of the Act in continuous industries, railways and other special cases.

An Act of April 3 1919 made similar provision for employees in bakeries, and working hours in mines were regulated by the Act of July 28 1919, which again established the 8-hour day, with possibilities of further reduction in particularly unhealthy places.

The 8-hour day was, however, established much earlier in some Austrian industries (e.g. lithography since 1914) by agreement, and has been extended to branches of industry not covered by the above Acts, e.g. woodworkers, by the same method. On March 1 1921 a 10-hour day in agriculture was instituted by collective agreement.

Rumania.?-?An administrative regulation of July 1 1919 instituted the 8-hour day in the national printing offices. The rule was extended to the State match and tobacco factories, railways and other State enterprises. Collective agreements secured the same end in the metal, carpentry and printing trades in Bucharest during the early months of 1919, and in the petroleum industry in Nov. of the same year. In one province (Ardeal) a Decree of May 21 1919 prescribed the 8-hour day in industry, mines and quarries, and in commercial establishments generally.

Spain.?-?Legislation on the 8-hour day in Spain commenced with the Royal Decree of March 11 1902, which applied to the employees of the Ministry of Finance. After the war, the same working day was extended by further decrees to building workers (March 15 1919), and to workers generally (April 3 1919?-?to come into force from Oct. 1 1919).

Regulations issued Oct. 9 1919 determined the hours to be worked at sea. The engine-room hands work an 8-hour day and 48-hour week at sea and in port; the hours of deck-hands vary with the size and nature of the vessel and its position. In the tropics the limit is 8 hours per day; elsewhere 10 or exceptionally 12.

Miners’ hours were fixed by an Act of Dec. 27 1910 at 10 daily for surface workers and 9 for underground workers. The above-mentioned decree of April 3 1919 extended the 8-hour day to both categories. Subsequently, by an order of Oct. 10 1919, the hours of underground workers were reduced to 7, the reason given being that this was necessary in order that the surface workers should not be compelled to work more than eight.

Finally, an Eight-Hour Day Order of Jan. 15 1920 applied the Decree of April 3 1919 to workers generally, and specified the permissible exceptions. The only class of workers excepted by name from the application of this order are domestic servants, but a second order of the same date specifies many other classes, including agricultural workers engaged in the care of livestock, and hotel and restaurant waiters. In a large number of trades the 8 and 48 rule had been secured by collective agreement before the coming into force of the above royal decree and orders.

Belgium.?-?An Act passed on June 8 1921 established the 8 and 48 rule in industry generally, but from the end of 1919 it had been almost universally adopted, usually by agreement, as in diamond-cutting, bootmaking and the manufacture of musical instruments (June 2 1919), in quarries (April 17 1919), coal-mines (Dec. 1 1919): on Jan. 1 1920 furnace workers secured the 8-hour day, and on Jan. 1 1921 it was extended to bookbinders also. Most, though not all other industries were already covered before these dates, so that the Act recently passed made little actual difference in the situation beyond the change from agreement to legislation. The Act of June 8 provided further that the same or similar regulations should come into force within one year for commercial workers, including employees in retail shops, hotels, restaurants and public houses. A 7-hour day is already observed in some commercial establishments, particularly in Antwerp, but the working of overtime is fairly general.

Netherlands.?-?An Act providing for the regulation of hours of labour and for the prohibition in certain cases of work in dangerous trades was adopted on Nov. 1 1919, and was put into force from Oct. 24 1920. Broadly speaking, the Act provided that the limit of hours of work in factories and workshops should be 8 in the day and 45 in the week; for outdoor employees of hotels, shops, offices, etc., 10 in the day and 55 in the week (with the possibility of a reduction in these hours by administrative regulations); for office workers indoors, 8 in the day and 45 in the week; for shop and pharmacy workers indoors 10 in the day and 55 in the week; for young persons employed in cafés and hotels, 9 hours in the day, and so forth. This is the most detailed and comprehensive hours-of-labour act in existence. A noteworthy feature is the 45-hour limit for the week’s work. In establishing this, however, the Act did no more than sanction legislatively or re-affirm what had been already achieved in a large number of industries by collective agreement and by earlier legislation. In practice the 45-hour week means that the worker has Saturday afternoon free and that the “English week-end” is firmly established in the Netherlands. Since the passing of the Act collective agreements have tended to make the 8 and 45 rule even more general than does the Act itself.

The Act had not up to 1921 been applied to navigation, but by agreements barge and boatmen have secured a 10-hour day, and the engine-room staff on seagoing vessels the 8-hour day; the tendency is for collective agreements for maritime workers generally to be based on the 8-hour day and the “English week-end.”

Denmark.?-?The Factory Act of April 29 1913 was amended by an Act of Feb. 12 1919, which introduced the 8-hour day in undertakings working continuously day and night, for workers engaged on continuous processes. By decree the 8-hour day was subsequently extended to the State railways, posts and telegraphs and customs offices. The municipal authorities of Copenhagen and certain other of the larger towns have granted the same hours to their employees generally.

For the most part, however, reductions of hours in Denmark have been secured rather by the method of collective agreement than by legislation. One such agreement made on May 17 1919, and covering over 150,000 workers in several industries, established the 8 and 48 rule.

A Commission on Working Hours was appointed on Feb. 28 1919. Its report proposed the adoption of the 8 and 48 rule.

Sweden.?-?The Act of Oct. 17 1919 relating to the limitation of working hours, applies to “every undertaking, industrial or otherwise, in which more than four workers are ordinarily employed on account of an employer and also to every such undertaking carried on in any town or borough or municipality the population of which . . . exceeds 1,500, although the number of workers employed therein may be less than four.” The Act imposes the 8 and 48 rule. A second Act regulates the hours during which work may be done in bakeries; generally speaking, it prohibits night and Sunday work.

An Act of Oct. 24 1919 limits the hours of seamen. The permitted hours vary with the size of the vessel and the nature and extent of its voyages. For engineers, greasers and trimmers on vessels carrying not less than 3 men of these categories the hours must not exceed 16 in 2 days, and similarly for firemen on vessels with engines of more than 250 H.P. engaged in ocean or North Sea trade, and on vessels of 600 H.P. or over in more restricted trade. For other seamen the 9-hour day is the general rule, though exceptions are permitted (up to 24 hours in two days) provided the weekly total does not exceed 63. On a vessel lying in port the limit is 8 hours daily (7 in the tropics).

Norway.?-?The Norwegian legislature adopted in Aug. 1918 an Act limiting the weekly hours of labour in industry to 48, with a daily maximum of 8½. Most industrial establishments, including mines, are covered by it, with the exception of those in which the number of employees is less than 5 and in which no motive power (of greater strength than 1 H.P.) is used.

An Act of July 11 1919 restricted the hours of seamen (deck-hands and engine-room staff) to 8 hours daily (7 in the tropics), and limited the hours during which the stewards, cooks and other workers on board might be employed. Exceptions were admitted for small vessels, fishing vessels, and sailing vessels doing coasting voyages in the limits of Norwegian waters.

Switzerland.?-?The principal Act regulating the hours of labour in Switzerland is the Factories Act of June 18 1914, which was amended by an Act of June 17 1919. The latter Act reduced the weekly hours to 48, providing at the same time for a working day longer than 8 hours in cases where a short Saturday is worked. Extensions to 52 hours are permissible if the Federal Council considers them warranted by “urgent necessity.”

Hours of work on railways and other services connected with transport and communications (i.e. the Federal railways, postal, telegraph and telephone services, and transport and communication undertakings licensed by the State) are fixed by an Act of March 6 1920 at 8 per day averaged over 14 working days. This Act was the object of a referendum and was approved by a large majority.

In the Canton of Basle (Town) a local Act of April 8 1920 applies the 48-hour week in a general way to all employees in the public services and in private undertakings. For bakers and confectioners, gardeners, hairdressers, shop assistants and some others a weekly maximum of 51 hours is determined; for caretakers, messengers, cab-drivers, hotel employees and home workers it is 60 hours, and for chemists’ assistants, theatre employees and “persons who work in the houses of private customers” 54. Domestic servants and agricultural workers are to be guaranteed an uninterrupted rest period of 9 hours in every 24. Other provisions regulate the working hours of young persons and children.

The 48-hour week has been very widely adopted in Switzerland, by virtue of the Act of 1919 and of numerous collective agreements which have regulated its application. Certain industries, e.g. lace-making and home-weaving, still, however, work longer hours, in the first case 52 (in 1914 it was 60), and in the latter, it is alleged, 10 to 12 hours per day.

For the building trades a scheme drawn up by a Special Commission appointed by the Federal Department of Public Economy was accepted in 1921. Under it the weekly hours will be 50 during the period March to Sept., 44½ in Oct. and Nov., and 39 otherwise.

Greece.?-?A regulation issued on Feb. 14 1911 established the 8-hour day for underground workers in mines. By collective agreements the same rule holds in certain industries, especially in and near Athens and the Piraeus, and in State industries. Workers covered by these agreements include gasworkers, dockers, workers in the manufacture of macaroni, flour-millers, coopers, carpenters and ship cleaners. Greece was the first country to ratify the Washington international Draft Convention.

Japan.?-?Some limitation of working hours (the 12-hour day) was secured by the Japanese Factory Act of 1911, but the 8-hour day has only recently begun to be adopted. Since the war, however, this daily limit has been introduced in the shipbuilding industry and in the metal trades; it would appear, however, that the American plan of determining a “basic” 8-hour day has been adopted, rather than an actual limitation of hours. In some of the important glass works of Osaka, and in certain establishments in Tokyo, Kobe and Osaka, the 8-hour day is worked. Telephone workers in the central offices work a 7- or 8-hour day.

South America.?-?Either by national law or by agreement the 8-hour day for industry prevails generally in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and Uruguay.

In the United States.- History of Working Time in the United States

See Also

History of Industrial Councils
History of Labor Legislation
U.S. Labor law and movement history 2
History of the International Labour Organization
International Labour Organization conventions list
U.S. Labor law and movement history
History of Trade Unions
Labor law
Geneva Convention (III)
Convention Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment
Convention Concerning Forced Labor

Further Reading

  • Deirdre McCann (2005), Working Time Laws: A global perspective, ILO
  • Madeleine Bunting (2004), Willing Slaves: How the Overwork Culture is Ruling Our Lives, HarperCollins
  • John de Graaf (2003), Take Back Your Time, Berrett-Koehler
  • Eugene J. McCarthy and William McGaughey (1989), “Nonfinancial Economics: The Case for Shorter Hours of Work”, Praeger
  • William McGaughey (1981), “A Shorter Workweek in the 1980s”, Thistlerose
  • Heejung Chung, Marcel Kerkhofs and Peter Ester “Working Time Flexibility in European Companies”, European Foundation.
  • Colette Fagan, Ariane Hegewisch and Jane Pillinger “Out of Time: why Britain needs a new approach to working time flexibility”, TUC
  • Ute Klammer, Ton Wilthagen, Heejung Chung, Anke Thiel (2008) “Take it or leave it: flexible working-time arrangements and the synchronization of business cycle and life cycle”(as part of the European Foundation project “Flexibility and Security over the lifecourse”)
  • Thirsk, Joan (1967) (editor) The agrarian history of England and Wales vol. IV

Mentioned in these Entries

Convention Concerning Forced Labor, Convention Concerning Minimum Age for Admission to Employment, Education, History of Industrial Councils, History of Labor Legislation, History of Trade Unions, History of the International Labour Organization, International Labour Organization conventions list, Labor law, League of Nations, Other provisions, Settlement of Disputes, Treaties, U.S. Labor law and movement history 2, U.S. Labor law and movement history, country.