May Day

Retired employees have been receiving a paltry amount of Rs. 8,500 per month as pension from EOBI since January 2020. This amount would have been more than Rs. 20,000 per month now, if the Companies Profits (Workers’ Participation) Act had not been devolved to the provinces.

By Parvez Rahim | May 2023

The first of May is a national holiday in many countries across the world including Pakistan, on account of the “International Workers’ Day.” The United States and Canada celebrate the day on the first Monday of September. May Day is unique, as it is celebrated with great enthusiasm not only in the communist countries but also by the Western world.

The celebration of May Day reminds the world of the consistent struggle of workers to achieve the 8-hour workday as excessive working hours posed a danger to their health and well-being of their families. The demonstrations to this effect originated on April 21, 1856, in Australia, when the stonemasons in Victoria, went on a massive strike as part of the 8-hour workday movement.

Its’ yearly commemoration in Australia inspired the American workers to have their first general strike beginning on May 1, 1886, for the same cause. On May 4, the police acted to disperse the agitating public in support of the strike, when an unidentified person threw a bomb on the assembly. The retaliatory firing on workers by the police and the bomb explosion caused the death of 15 police officers and 115 protestors were injured. These events of May 1886 are called the Haymarket affair in Chicago.

The celebration of May Day every year, was formally recognized as an annual event at the international conference held in 1891. However, the workers’ demonstrations for the legal acceptance of 8-hour day work continued till these were formalized by the first convention issued by the International Labour Organization (ILO) in 1919. The convention also provided adequate rest periods and fixed the weekly working hours at 48. These worldwide limitations continue unchanged till now despite the passage of more than hundred years.

During the last more than 130 years, May Day has been celebrated both (a) to commemorate the social and economic achievements of workers or (b) to lodge strong protest against labour repression and demands for more rights, better wages, and benefits. The peak period of May Day celebrations in Pakistan from 1972 to 1977, belonged to the ‘b’ category of demonstrations, as is evident from the following facts:

In his election manifesto in 1970, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto (ZAB), the founder of the Pakistan Peoples’ Party (PPP), had promised the industrial workers to ameliorate their lot, if brought into power. He committed to regularize them in jobs and bring improvement in their salaries, benefits, and education of children. Immediately prior to 1971, when ZAB took over the government, the contributions of Air Vice Marshal (Retd) Noor Khan, made towards the welfare of industrial workers, are highly appreciated by the leaders of labour federation till to date.

ZAB’s government made massive amendments in the Industrial Relations Ordinance, 1969 by adding the forums of Joint Management Board and Management Committee besides the already existing successful forums of the Shop Stewards and the Works Council. The new forums granted equal rights to representatives of the Collective Bargaining Agent union, to manage and frame policies concerning the factory workers along with the organization’s management.

A martial law order was promulgated whereby workers dismissed from service after the general elections held on 7 December 1970, were to be reinstated in their respective jobs by the courts. In addition, Junior Labour Courts were constituted to decide the cases of workers’ unfair dismissal from service within 7 days.

The share of workers in their company’s profit, was increased from 2.5% to 5%. The 2% share of workers towards the monthly contribution of social security scheme, was abolished. The following three new labour welfare laws were enacted and promulgated; Workers’ Children (Education) Ordinance, 1972; Employees’ Cost of Living (Relief) Act, 1973 and the landmark Employees Old-Age Benefits Act, 1976. Another law i.e., Workers’ Welfare Fund Ordinance, 1971, also owes its origin to the rising awakening of workers about their rights in that era.

Read More