Monday, 01 May 2017 11:06


As we celebrate Labour Day, we honour the men and women who fought tirelessly for workers' rights, which are so critical to our strong and successful labour force.


Today is May Day. It is a day that the working class celebrates not only their freedom but talks of their rights stemming from the International Labour Day which commenced in the United States on 1 May 1886. However, the bottom line in Sri Lanka is that, of late, May Day is not really about the workers and their rights, but, a political struggle to show the public how strong they are numerically and what numbers they could draw.

Historically, on 1 May 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye.

For some, it was an assumption that it is a holiday celebrated in state in communist countries like Cuba or the former Soviet Union.

It stemmed from the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

In the late 19th century, the working class was in constant struggle to gain the 8-hour work day. Working conditions were severe and it was quite common to work 10 to 16-hour days in unsafe conditions. Death and injury were commonplace at many work places and inspired such books as Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and Jack London's The Iron Heel. As early as the 1860s, working people agitated to shorten the workday without a cut in pay, but it wasn't until the late 1880s that organized labour was able to garner enough strength to declare the 8-hour workday. This proclamation was without the consent of employers, yet demanded by many of the working class.

At this time, socialism was a new and attractive idea to working people, many of whom were drawn to its ideology of working class control over the production and distribution of all goods and services. Workers had seen first-hand that Capitalism benefited only their bosses, trading workers' lives for profit. Thousands of men, women and children were dying needlessly every year in the workplace, with life expectancy as low as their early twenties in some industries, and little hope but death of rising out of their destitution. Socialism offered another option.

The International Labour Day, which is also popularly known as May Day, is no more the day to stress the woes of the workers, but a day where political parties will demonstrate their numerical strengths. The workers are the mere pawns of the chessboard of the political parties.


There was a grandiose plan where there was to be a private sector pension scheme. There was glib talk by not only the previous government but also by this government. But, it remains a dream. Different things are being talked of all the time, but, as usual, nothing happens. This is also NATO. This time, No Action Talk Only.

What about a full insurance scheme for all government and private sector employees ? It is a win-win situation for both the government and private sector employees and also the insurance companies. It is also to be proposed that insurance should be made compulsory for all government and private sector employees so that if and when they fall sick, they could be channelled to the private sector hospitals where the government could leave the State hospitals for the absolutely poor and who cannot have insurance or private sector treatment and cures. That should be government policy like in other countries. That, itself, should be government policy.


It is also true that there is an acute shortage of labour in the country. But the theme of all governments including this one is 'Job security is there not no sweat.' In short, take the maximum and give the minimum. The story in other words is "All Right, you stay.

Your job is assured and you don't need to work hard or work at all." That is the typical attitude of the government workers. So, a minor staff employee gets around Rs 40,000 per month for possibly two hours of work a day. So, people will queue up to get State sector jobs of getting the maximum returns for the minimum work done! How attractive.

This culture is diametrically opposite to the private sector culture where the salaries are high but one is expected to work for that pay or even more. That is how the private sector functions. The sky and the zenith are the limits for the results oriented employees. It is also the case of the informal economy as well. Try getting a plumber, carpenter or mason, then you will know what the salaries are!!


This is entitlement culture. That is the latest management concept. What is the maximum I can get so that I can give nothing back?

Today's context is not the lack of jobs: But, the lack of people willing to work.

The tragedy is that even with the requisite qualifications, doctors do not want nurses to read for degrees and for the Assistant Medical Practitioners to become doctors and engineers also do not like Technical Assistants to become engineers.


Trade Unions are also to be blamed. They ask for the moon, threatening with crippling strikes when it comes to emergency services such as health, petroleum and others as well. But, what do they give to give back? Nothing as usual. Like Oliver Twist, they continue to ask for more: But, with nothing in return. They are too busy with their strikes and trade unions in their quest to grab political power, and that is all. They are indeed a bunch of rotters with ulterior motives.

What is the lot for the women in the three key sectors of the economy, viz, plantations, migrant workers and apparel workers? Has the government done anything to improve the lot of plantation workers who live in squalid conditions?

So, today and this afternoon and evening, we will hear all politicians of all hues and cries yelling at the top of their voices, the shortcomings of the others politically and economically, with the free rice packet and the bottle of arrack to boot. However, whether the lot of the hapless worker will improve, only time will tell ! (ceylontoday)

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