Revisiting labour laws on Labour Day | Pakistan Today

Revisiting labour laws on Labour Day

  • Putting an end to exploitation

Labour Day, or International Workers’ Day, has been reduced to just a holiday in recent times: one day off from all that the day and its creators stood against.

Initiated as a day to commemorate the Haymarket Affair, which took place on May 4, 1886 in Chicago, Illinois, Labour Day in modern times is just a bank holiday to most – even the working class. Or, shall we say, especially the working class, since that’s the only class that is granted days off at another’s will, in the first place.

The Haymarket Riot was characterised by a first-of-its-kind protest against excessive working hours, and other demands of the working class proletariat, as well as the killing of workers at the hands of policemen. It was during the protest that a bomb was set off, resulting in the death of four civilians and seven policemen, as well as the arrest of eight protestors, who were considered to be “anarchists”.

The protest was staged by the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions, a union of all labour unions of United States and Canada. FOTLU and other organisations like the International Workingmen’s Association, or the First International, and its successor, the Second International, were dedicated to fighting for the rights of workers, or the proletariat, to use the Marxist term.

These rights, among other things, included the eight-hour working day: the idea that work should be limited to eight hours per day, while eight hours in the day should be allotted to leisure, and eight reserved for rest.

These rights, among other things, included the eight-hour working day: the idea that work should be limited to eight hours per day, while eight hours in the day should be allotted to leisure, and eight reserved for rest

If you are like most people on the planet this arrangement must still seem to be a utopian setting – even in this day and age, let alone a hundred years ago.

A report by the World Economic Forum suggests that the longest working days in developed or transitional countries belong to the Mexicans, who work nearly 43 hours a week, or more than eight hours a day.

Another report by the International Labour Office, or ILO, underscored the highest working hours per week in the same category of countries to belong to Saudi Arabia and Turkey, at 48, which is nearly 10 hours per day, in a five-day week.

Add to this the burden of working at work assignments while at home, and catering to emails and calls from work in their off-time, and the total hours worked is pushed much further up for the average worker in the developing world.

The realities in the developed world, however, are different, with Germans working an average of 1,363 hours a year or 26 hours a week or just five hours a day, Americans work 1,783 hours per week or a little under seven hours per day, while even the famed hard workers, the Japanese, work 1,713 hours per day, or nearly 6.5 hours a day.

However, the WEF insists that, despite working shorter days, employees in such countries are still more productive (an average German, for example, is as much as 27pc more productive than an average Brit, who work longer per day).

So where does Pakistan stand in the work-life balance spectrum? Legally in Pakistan, employees are not supposed to work more than 48 hours a week, or 8/9 hours per day, including lunch and prayer timings.

However, overtime is not an uncommon practice in an average Pakistani office, and certain reports suggest that working overtime can routinely take an average Pakistani employee’s working day to 12 hours.

This despite the fact that the Factories Act of 1934 declares it illegal to demand adults to work more than nine hours a day. But then again, Article 11 prohibits slavery, forced labour and child labour, too, and we all know where we stand on those fronts.

Corporate workers still have it much easier than agricultural workers, who are exploited by their landowners (the waderas, jagirdars, and zamindars) to the point of exhaustion, not only physically, but emotionally and socially, reducing them to the status of slaves, in all practicality.

What, then, is the purpose of celebrating Labour Day? Most of our labour doesn’t get the day off anyway, particularly those who work on the fields, while to the rest it doesn’t matter.

Instead of celebrating days, we should, perhaps focus on introducing such laws that effectively put an end to labour exploitation. After all, some of the most productive nations in the world, such as the Canada and Australia, do not celebrate the day on this very date. Their workforce probably doesn’t mind it too much.