The 01st of May, was it just another public holiday, another reason to indulge or take things easy?
Known as Workers’ day in South Africa, it is otherwise known as May Day all over the world, most importantly it is a chance to commemorate the workers across the globe, and the contributions they make towards the growth of the nation. It is a day where those who fought for workers’ rights are remembered.
Workers’ Day in South Africa has been officially recognised and observed since the first democratic elections in 1994. The holiday serves both as a celebration of workers’ rights and as a reminder of the critical role that trade unions, the Communist Party and other labour organisations played in the fight against Apartheid. The fight was for solidarity between working people and their struggles to achieve fair employment standards for all workers.
South Africa has progressive labour laws which are aimed at providing protection to workers, address economic inequalities, curb unemployment and various forms of discrimination, as well as establish decent working conditions for all. However, as good as these laws are, there is still major room for improvement, especially in regard to the actual implementation and the monitoring thereof as well as in ensuring that they meet the on-going changes in workplaces in order to ensure that the implementation resonates with the intent of the legislation.
The advent of the COVID-19 global pandemic called for drastic changes to working conditions and required major workplace adaptations and more especially digital adaptations. These adaptations were especially highlighted when one looked at the actual Workers’ Day celebrations which, for the second year in a row, have been changed drastically from the large gatherings or rallies by workers taking place all over the country, to more subdued events which took place either virtually or through smaller gatherings where possible. Without a doubt, this watered down the impact of the Workers’ Day observance, especially for those who could not participate.
Although South Africa is adapting well to the digital working culture upon us, a large number of workers in our country still cannot benefit from these advances, either due to lack of resources or an inability to make effective use of the resources at hand.
As much as the actual Workers’ Day celebrations have passed, we are still able to take the time to celebrate the technological and other advances made towards securing decent working environments and the improvement of working conditions. However, more importantly, we should also take time to identify what else we can do in each of our workplaces and spaces in order to ensure that all employees are technologically empowered, to make use of the opportunities that the digital advances offer towards ensuring decent working environments.
Apart from the advances brought on by the pandemic, COVID-19 also revealed major vulnerabilities for certain categories of workers such as female employees, domestic workers, informal traders, etc. This calls for us to do all that we can to place a spotlight on issues such as ensuring fair and decent work conditions, workplaces free from discrimination, violence and harassment for all. These are issues that, when addressed, can contribute towards the recognition of workers and their work, to workers being able to find purpose and value in their work towards positive work experiences.
Workers’ Day does not only celebrate past struggles and victories, it also serves as a reminder to look at the way we work today and to always strive for a better future. Let us continue to celebrate and invest in workers beyond just the 01st of May in order to elevate and improve the working conditions for all and to ensure that we have even greater reasons to celebrate in the future.
“We can change the world and make it a better place. It is in your hands to make a difference.” – Nelson Mandela