Many people are not aware of why we observe occasions such as May Day or Labour Month in South Africa. To the majority of workers, it’s simply another holiday where we get to lounge around the house, binge-watch the latest series or visit friends. So in short – we see it as just another holiday. The truth is that these occasions originate from important historical milestones in the struggle to secure workers’ rights.
The fight for fair working hours
The fight for a shorter workday for the working class was a critical topic in political rhetoric dating back to the 1800s. On October 7, 1884 the Federation of Organized Trades and Labour Unions in the USA and Canada decided that a legal workday would constitute 8 hours, commencing on May 1, 1886. Ever since then, May Day has been observed on the same date every year around the world.
In the local context, however, the story goes even deeper because of our country’s history. The 100th anniversary of May fell on May 1, 1986. The Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), one of South Africa’s largest labour federations and only about a year old at the time, demanded that the first of May be recognised as a public holiday called Worker’s Day. The federation called for a stay away that – in the end – was supported by over 1.5-million workers, pupils, taxi associations, shopkeepers and many others.
The struggle is not over – but it’s changing
The struggle to improve the living and working conditions of workers continues even today. As technology brings new innovations and practices into the workplace, we need to constantly think of their implications on the lives of ordinary workers. We’ve seen many instances in recent times where digital disruptions result in wholesale changes in entire industries. We’ve seen iTunes change how consumers listen to music, where they no longer need to go to stores to purchase physical copies of albums, and the backlash from artists around the world about it. We’ve also started seeing companies promise the world self-driving cars and, in the same breath, raise concerns about the future of jobs in the auto industry.
We need help navigating the labour law landscape
The ever-changing labour landscape makes it a must for companies and individuals alike to keep up with the law, especially right now during Labour Month.
Sabinet Labour is a one-stop resource covering any of your legal information needs regarding labour – straight from the Courts to your inbox. Sabinet send out a weekly newsletter with current developments in the industry, with subscribers being able to sign up to receive Labour Judgments and/or Bargaining Council Agreements. The best thing about their service is that they’re easily reachable online, too.
We need more companies to participate in the conversation about challenges facing the labour industry. The best way to do this is to make legal information about it more accessible. Spread the word, and enjoy the rest of your Labour Month!