International Labour Day, also known as May Day or Worker’s Day, is celebrated annually on May 1 to recognise the workers’ rights and renew the ongoing struggle of the working class to reclaim rights in certain cases. The primary objective of Labour Day is to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of the working class, create awareness about their rights, and protect them from exploitation.
The origins of May Day can be traced back to the late 19th century when labour movements around the world began advocating for an eight-hour workday. On May 1st, 1886, thousands of workers in the United States went on strike, demanding better working conditions and shorter hours. The protests turned violent in Chicago’s Haymarket Square when a bomb was thrown at police, killing several officers and protesters. The incident became known as the Haymarket affair and led to the establishment of May Day as a day of remembrance for the labour movement.
Today, May Day is celebrated as a public holiday in many countries, including Russia, China, Cuba, and most of Europe. It is often marked with parades, speeches, and other events to celebrate the achievements of workers and to promote their ongoing struggle for fair treatment and better working conditions.
READ I Missing facts: Labour reforms debate in the context of India’s 4 labour codes
Is May Day relevant today?
The question that confronts us today is whether May Day is relevant in the present context. The answer is yes, May Day is still relevant today. Despite progress made in labour rights and workplace safety over the past century, there are still many challenges facing workers around the world. Many workers still face low wages, long hours, unsafe working conditions, discrimination, and inadequate protections for their rights.
May Day serves as a reminder of the ongoing struggle for worker’s rights and the need for continued advocacy and action to ensure fair treatment and protection for all workers. It is also a time to celebrate the contributions of workers to society and to recognize their important role in building a more equitable and just world.
In recent years, May Day has also become a platform for activism on a wide range of social and political issues, including immigration, climate change, and social justice. Demonstrations and protests around the world continue to highlight the need for systemic change to address these pressing issues and to create a more just and equitable society for all.
Eight-hour work day in all occupations
An eight-hour workday is pivotal to May Day significance. Here, the question is, whether it is implemented in all occupations. While the eight-hour workday is the standard in many occupations, it is not followed in all types of jobs. Many industries, such as healthcare, emergency services, transportation, and manufacturing, often require workers to work longer shifts or irregular hours to meet the needs of their customers or patients.
Additionally, many workers, particularly those in low-wage jobs, often work longer hours than the standard eight-hour day due to economic pressures or inadequate labour protections. In some countries, laws exist to regulate maximum working hours, but enforcement can be weak, leading to exploitation and abuse of workers.
However, the eight-hour workday remains an important goal and benchmark for many labour movements and worker advocacy groups around the world. It is seen as a key step towards ensuring fair and equitable working conditions, reducing overwork and burnout, and promoting a healthy work-life balance for all workers.
Eight-hour workday in home-based occupations
One of the important changes in the world of work is the decentralisation of the production process, and the fallout is the shifting of sizable production from factory to home. This is happening through large-scale outsourcing and putting-out. In such cases, the employer-employee relationship remains ambiguous at best and absent at worst.
The labour process is substantially different from that of factory production. There is no direct supervision, and doubt remains about the enforceability of the eight-hour work norm. It is not an eight-hour workday that cannot be implemented in home-based occupations but requires self-regulation. In fact, many people who work from home or are self-employed often set their schedules and work hours, which can include an eight-hour workday.
However, it is important to note that working from home can blur the boundaries between work and personal life, making it challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance. It can be tempting to work longer hours or be available to work outside regular work hours, which can lead to burnout and other negative effects on physical and mental health.
To ensure that an eight-hour workday is achievable and sustainable in home-based occupations, it is important for workers to set clear boundaries around their work time and prioritise self-care and relaxation outside of work hours. This can include setting specific start and end times for work, taking regular breaks, and avoiding the temptation to work during off-hours. Employers can also play a role in promoting healthy work practices and ensuring that their workers are not overworked or overwhelmed.
Eight-hour workday in gig and platform work
Implementing an eight-hour workday in gig and platform work can be challenging due to the nature of the work. Gig and platform work is characterised by short-term contracts or freelance work, which can result in irregular schedules and hours. Additionally, workers in gig and platform jobs often have to compete for work and may feel pressured to work longer hours to earn more money.
While it may be difficult to implement a strict eight-hour workday in gig and platform work, there are steps that can be taken to promote fair working conditions and protect the rights of workers. For example, some gig and platform companies have implemented policies that limit the number of hours that workers can work on a given day or week. Others have implemented features that allow workers to set their schedules and manage their workloads.
It is also important for gig and platform workers to be aware of their rights and to advocate for fair working conditions. This can include joining labour unions or other worker advocacy groups, negotiating fair pay and working conditions with employers, and pushing for stronger labour protections and regulations in their countries or regions.
Ultimately, while implementing an eight-hour workday may not be feasible in all gig and platform work, there are steps that can be taken to ensure that workers are treated fairly and have access to basic labour protections and benefits.
Lack of employer-employee relations
The lack of a traditional employer-employee relationship can be an impediment to labour rights for gig and platform workers. In many countries, labour laws and protections are designed for traditional employment relationships, which can make it difficult for gig and platform workers to access benefits and protections such as minimum wage laws, overtime pay, and workers’ compensation.
The classification of gig and platform workers as independent contractors or self-employed individuals, rather than employees, can also limit their ability to collectively bargain and form unions to advocate for better working conditions and protections. Additionally, the decentralised nature of gig and platform work can make it difficult for workers to have a voice in decision-making and to hold employers accountable for unfair or unsafe working conditions.
However, there are efforts underway in many countries to address these challenges and to promote fair working conditions and labour protections for gig and platform workers. Some countries have passed laws that recognise gig and platform workers as employees and extend labour protections to them, while others are exploring alternative models for ensuring fair pay and working conditions.
Worker advocacy groups and labour unions are also working to organise and represent gig and platform workers, advocating for their rights and pushing for stronger labour protections and regulations that reflect the changing nature of work in the 21st century.
Eight-hour workday in low-paid, self-employed jobs
Implementing an eight-hour workday in informal, low-paid self-employed occupations can be challenging due to the nature of the work and the lack of formal structures for regulating working conditions. However, there are steps that can be taken to promote fair working conditions and protect the rights of workers in these types of jobs:
Establish clear expectations: Self-employed workers can set their own schedules and work hours, but it is important to establish clear expectations around working hours and workload. This can include setting specific start and end times for work, taking regular breaks, and avoiding the temptation to work during off-hours.
Advocate for fair pay: Self-employed workers should be aware of their rights and advocate for fair pay and working conditions. This can include negotiating with clients and customers to ensure fair compensation for their work.
Join worker advocacy groups: Self-employed workers can join worker advocacy groups and labour unions to advocate for their rights and push for stronger labour protections and regulations in their countries or regions.
Seek out government support: Some governments offer support and resources for self-employed workers, such as access to affordable healthcare or social safety nets.
Work with employers and clients: Self-employed workers can work with employers and clients to establish clear expectations around working hours and workload. This can include setting specific deadlines or project goals and negotiating fair compensation for their work.
Ultimately, promoting fair working conditions and implementing an eight-hour workday in informal, low-paid self-employed occupations will require a concerted effort from workers, employers, and policymakers to create a more equitable and sustainable work environment.
What remains the basic significance of May Day in today’s world of work?
The basic significance of May Day remains relevant in today’s world of work, as it is a reminder of the struggles and achievements of the labour movement and the ongoing fight for workers’ rights.
In today’s world of work, where the nature of work is rapidly changing due to technological advancements and globalisation, May Day serves as a call to action for workers to come together and advocate for fair and just working conditions, protections, and benefits.
The gig economy, platform work, and informal work sectors are growing, and the workers in these sectors often face challenges in accessing basic labour protections and benefits. May Day reminds us of the need to ensure that all workers are treated fairly and have access to basic rights and protections.
In short, the basic significance of May Day remains as relevant today as it was when it was first established. It is a reminder of the ongoing struggle for workers’ rights and the importance of collective action and solidarity among workers.
(Opinions expressed in this article are of the authors. Dr Kingshuk Sarkar is the Area Chair and Associate Professor at the Goa Institute of Management, Goa. Prof DN Venkatesh is the Dean of Academics at the Goa Institute of Management.)
Subscribe to Policy Circle newsletter