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The Australian labour movement has its origins in the early 19th century and includes both trade unions and political activity.At its broadest, the movement encompasses an industrial wing (Australian unions) and a political wing (Australian Labor Party).
Australia never had formal slavery, but the convicts transported to the colony were required to work, without pay, either for the administration or could be required to work for private landholders.A trade union or other association could also be regarded as illegal because of being a "restraint of trade".The British Master and Servant Act 1823, and subsequent updates, were generally regarded as heavily biased towards employers, and designed to discipline employees and repress the "combination" of workers in trade unions.The Trades and Labor Council of Sydney was formed by eight unions in 1871, and Sydney Trades Hall was built between 18.The United Trades and Labour Council of South Australia has a history dating back to 1884.Craft unions in Australia began in the early 19th century as craft associations of highly skilled urban workers who sought to organise (form a labour union), to increase their low wages and decrease their high number of hours.
By 1902, the Master and Servant Act 1823 had been modified to include forfeit of wages if the written or unwritten contract for work was unfulfilled.
Absence from place of work was punishable by imprisonment of up to three months with or without hard labour.
There were also penalties of up to ₤10 for anyone who harboured, concealed or re-employed a 'servant' who had deserted or absconded or absented himself from his duty implied in the 'contract'.
They pre-emptively went on strike, won the eight-hour day, and celebrated with a victory dinner on 1 October 1855.
On 21 April 1856 Stonemasons led by Cooper Bridges, building workers on building sites around Melbourne stopped work and marched from the University of Melbourne to Parliament House to achieve an eight-hour day.
A further 4% did not know whether they were trade union members or not, while 1% were trade union members not in conjunction with their main job.