WHETHER we call it Labour Day, International Workers’ Day or simply May Day, May 1 is in danger of becoming little more than just another public holiday among the many that we have in Malaysia.
It would be a pity (and a harsh joke) if people’s appreciation of Labour Day is derived largely from the glee of not having to go to work. Yes, it is always nice to have the day off, but would it not be better if the significance of May 1 is properly understood and relived?
We need to go back to the beginning, and it is not a pleasant one.
Source: Himpunan 100,000 May Day Hari Pekerja Sedunia
According to the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Labour Day commemorates the period of civil unrest in the late 19th century when workers in industrialised countries agitated for better working conditions, higher wages, and caps on their working day and week. “Many of the demonstrations were suppressed with force,” says the ILO.
The preamble to the original ILO Constitution lists the rights that the workers fought for then.
These are the conditions for universal and lasting peace based on social justice, says the organisation.
Today, a majority of the Malaysian workforce take for granted many of these rights – for example, the protection of the worker against sickness, disease and injury arising out of his employment; the protection of children, young persons and women; and provision for old age and injury.
We have come a long way, but there is certainly room for progress.
Bear in mind that it was only last year that Malaysia put in place a minimum wage policy and a minimum retirement age for the private sector.
These days, Mr and Mrs Average are very much focused on trying to outpace or at least keep up with the inflation rate.
They feel the impact of the Government’s subsidy rationalisation programme and the ballooning property prices. They worry about what will happen when the goods and services tax are imposed next year and if the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership becomes reality.
In other words, their big concern is that they are not deprived of the workers’ right to the provision of an adequate living wage.
And of course, there is no shortage of allegations of union busting, workplace discrimination, poor treatment of foreign workers, and businesses that disregard employee welfare.
Therefore, Labour Day should trigger contemplation among employers too. It is a good day as any for employers to recognise the contribution of workers.
Once upon a time, an employer and his employee were said to have a master-and-servant relationship.
Other than perhaps in the legal context, it is no longer fashionable to use such a term. Enlightened employers see their employees as stakeholders or even partners.
May 1 is also a day for all of us to remember that there are many people elsewhere in the world who can only dream of the rights at work that we have long enjoyed.
As the ILO points out, when a nation fails to adopt humane conditions of labour, that failure blocks other nations’ from improving the conditions in their own countries.
The STAR Home Opinion Columnist Wednesday April 30, 2014 MYT 12:00:00 AM