How the 8-hour workday schedule was established - History Key

How the 8-hour workday schedule was established

Nowadays, many employees consider the eight-hour program too long and too demanding. But keep in mind that in the past, the workday could reach up to 18 hours.

The first attempt

To maximize production, factories applied a shift that could last between 10 and 18 hours a day, six days a week. Despite the inhuman schedule and the hazardous conditions, the workers received low wages.

The first to discuss the 8-hour work program was Robert Owen, a British man, considered one of the founders of socialism. In 1817, under the “8 hours of work, 8 hours of recreation and 8 hours of rest” statement, Owen tried to change the U.K. labor law. Unfortunately, the initiative wasn’t successful.

Owen, aged about 50
Owen, aged about 50 ©

The second attempt

However, three decades later, the Kingdom authorities issued “The Factory Act of 1847” which limited the work schedule for women and children to a maximum of 10 hours a day. Men were forced to work over 60 hours a week.

In 1884, the limitation of the working schedule to 8 hours was brought back by Tom Mann. He was an influential member of the Social Democratic Federation. He managed to take a step further than Robert Owen, convincing the Trades Union Congress (representing most of the U.K. trades union) about the benefits of an 8-hours schedule. Unfortunately, his action wasn’t successful among the industrialists.

Tom Mann
Tom Mann ©

The last attempt

Probably the most important step in implementing the 8-hour work day was Henry Ford. In 1905 he reduced the working hours to eight hours and it is believed that he doubled the salaries of all his employees. “Surprisingly”, Ford’s decision increased the productivity and after two years, Ford Motor Company doubled its profit.

Henry Ford, 1919
Henry Ford, 1919 ©

Surprised by the results, many businessmen have established this program. Also, the measure has determined most of the employees from other companies to demand a reduction of the working hours.

Whether they took Henry Ford’s model from their own initiative or worried about the employee strikes, most of the companies reduced the program to eight hours a day.

Workers in a boot making factory, 1900
Workers in a boot making factory, 1900 ©

Currently, more and more companies are planning to reduce the schedule to six hours a day to increase the productivity, but also to reduce the number of employees.

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