Australians love our weekends, but we take them for granted.

Our weekend off was not just given to us, and it was not always there. The weekends most of us enjoy were won by strong, united action taken by brave union members in a battle that stretched nearly 100 years.

In the 1800s, most Australians worked up to 14 hours a day, six days a week. There was little time for the things we now take for granted: weekend barbecues, the beach, footy, or fun with family and friends.

Australian unions began campaigning for shorter working hours in the 1850s.

In April, 1856, on a stinking hot day, stonemasons working at the University of Melbourne walked off the job demanding an eight-hour day.

The Stonemasons marched to the Victorian Parliament House, which was still being built. Builders on-site joined the strike. Together, these workers won the first eight-hour day.

But it was only the start.

It wasn’t until 1939 that union campaigning led to a standard 44-hour week across all industries. So, in 1941, working five days a week and half of Saturday was a short working week.

Throughout World War II, workers put a lid on claims for better pay and conditions, as everyone rolled up their sleeves for the war effort.

But when the war ended, workers who had sacrificed so much had had enough, and sought to gain the better conditions they deserved. This included a big push for a 40-hour week and the time off that would provide.

Just as in earlier times, bosses and conservative politicians absolutely insisted it would be devastating for business if workers only worked for 40 hours a week.

But in 1947 the Arbitration Court decided in favour of the 40-hour week.

The unions had won, and the weekend was born!


If so, you are among a growing number of Australians making that extra effort to build the nation or keep it running while the rest of us relax.

But at least you should get paid a bit more for it. You deserve it, and that’s where penalty rates come in.

Penalty rates on weekends were introduced in 1947 as compensation for making people work when others did not have to.

Penalty rates and allowances are higher pay rates that can apply when you are asked or required to work particular hours or days, such as weekends or public holidays.

The penalty rates you are entitled to depend on where you work, when you do it and what you do, and are based on the award or enterprise agreement you work under.

If you work on the weekend, make sure you are being paid properly for it. Contact your AWU delegate, or join the union!


The weekend is a national institution, right? So you’d assume it’s safe, or at least you’ll always be paid more for giving it up?

Think again.

For example, many casual workers and workers in the gig economy don’t get a typical weekend. They work hideous hours, seven days a week, and often don’t receive the right pay, let alone penalties.

It’s the same for many vulnerable workers who simply don’t know their rights and are taken advantage of.

We can’t let big business and conservative politicians take us back to the 19th century.

If you love your weekend, and your time off in general, we need to work to protect it.

The best way to do that? Join your union!

Be a part of our community.

Join the AWU.

Stronger together.


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