Workers across Africa have commemorated this year’s May Day with hope for better working conditions but lamenting job losses, low wages and increasing unemployment among youths prompting constant migration.
The holiday honours the many years of struggles against human rights violation of workers which included long work days and weeks, inhumane conditions and child labour.
In South Africa, the day was led by political parties who held rallies with the country’s general elections looming just days away.
The ANC’s greatest presence was in Durban and Mpumalanga, while the EFF focused on Gauteng and the DA on the Western Cape – an indication of the parties’ respective strongholds and areas of interest.
The ANC’s eThekwini rally was led by President Cyril Ramaphosa who said 1.5 million new jobs had been created over the past five years, bringing the number of South Africa’s employed up to 16.5 million, a steep hill to still climb for a country with a population of 56 million.
“Over the last 25 years, we’ve advanced the cause and rights of workers to organise, collectively bargain, refuse dangerous work and to strike. The national minimum wage improves the lives of over 6 million workers,” Ramaphosa told the crowd.
The ruling party’s Deputy President, David Mabuza, urged the nation to use the day to reflect on the collective plight for labourers.
“This is a day to reassert yours and our commitment to the achievement of international labour standards and solidarity. It is a day for unity and solidarity, for taking the injuries of one for all, ” Mabuza said.
The DA’s May Day rally was held at the Hillsong Church in Cape Town where Alan Winde, the party’s candidate for premiere of the Western Cape, said he wanted residents to help him keep the DA in power and ‘free’ off the ANC’s leadership. “ We cannot go back to the days of Ebrahim Rasool and brown envelopes. We cannot go back to corruption.”
Party leader, Mmusi Maimane, spoke about what he called the failures of the ANC, citing unemployment and reduced income among them.
“After twenty-five years of ANC rule, our freedoms are once again under threat. Ten million of us are without work at all and those of us who do work are losing our income to the greedy and corrupt ANC,” Maimane said.
The EFF’s rally in Alexandra township in Johannesburg was led by party head Julius Malema who addressed questions of dignity in his characteristic off-the-cuff style.
“Today, Mashaba (Johannesburg’s Mayor) has hired 900 securities in the municipality. Cleaners of the municipality; we are taking you as permanent workers, we are increasing your salary, we are giving you pension funds and medical aid. We are going to look after our workers,” Malema told the enthusiastic crowd.
In Egypt, President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi spoke at a celebration organised by the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions in Alexandria to honour workers and labour leaders.
“Increasing the minimum wage rate is not the fruit of economic reform. We have not yet done anything,” Sisi said, stressing that strikes harm the workplace and workers. “Whenever you feel that you are wronged, work more. The workplace is yours even if it’s owned by someone else. You grow with it whenever it grows.” Sisi told workers.
Sisi also said that people can achieve their aspirations by participating in elections, noting that he doesn’t seek to remain in office.
The president awarded the Order of the First Class to 10 veterans of trade unions in recognition of their efforts in the field of trade unionism and the Medal of Excellency to two employees of the Ministry of Manpower.
In Accra, President Nana Akufo-Addo marked this year’s May Day celebrations with the launch of a charter to guide the Ghana Beyond Aid campaign.
It was drafted as a guideline and strategy that will allow Ghana to reach the goal of developing the country, not through dependence on aid from development partners, but through available natural resources.
The policy was drafted by a government committee that had representatives from the Trades Union Congress, the Private Enterprise Foundation, the Ghana National Association of Teachers, as well as the Association of Ghana industries.
The Ghanaian president thanked workers for their contribution to the country’s development despite economic challenges.
“Our nation Ghana at 62 remains very much a work in progress. A lot of things remain to be done to improve upon the quality of our lives. I also want to reiterate the fact that we are all in it together whether it is in management or government or on the shop floor the project of our existence succeeds if we work together and pull together.”
Secretary General of Kenya’s Central Organisation of Trade Unions (COTU), Francis Atwoli, met with a disappointing turnout at Wednesday’s parade as he led this year’s Labour Day celebrations at Uhuru Park grounds.
Unlike previous years, attendance was very poor with workers more concerned about the high levels of unemployment than the traditional celebrations.
In recent years, International Workers Day in Kenya has been marked by an increase in minimum wage but this time employers and employees alike opposed calls for an increase in the minimum wage according to Kenyan media.
This was in response to reports that COTU was calling on the government to increase the minimum wage 15%.
Labour Day and Joblessness
The Federation of Kenya Employers has repeatedly complained about minimum wage increments, saying it puts a strain on businesses which could result in their sacking workers to remain profitable.
“A lot has changed since the last Labour Day, they announced an increase in minimum wage but what I got was a sack as my boss downscaled operations and closed one branch due to a tough business environment,” Phillip Mwangi told Nairobi News.
One unemployed Kenyan lamented the high rate of unemployment in the country, saying it remains a time-bomb. She wants more focus on job creation.
“Labour Day does not exist for me because I am jobless. I wish we can just scrap it and concentrate on creating jobs as a country. It’s an insult to celebrate workers day when a majority of us youths are unemployed,” Sally, an unemployed youth said.
According to the World Bank, Kenya has the highest rate of youth unemployment in East Africa.
In Uganda a national ceremony to mark International Worker’s Day was held in the northern district of in Patong, Agago county.
The ceremony themed, ‘Promoting employment through enhanced public infrastructure development’ was hosted by the Minister of Gender, Labour and Social Affairs, Janat Mukwaya.
The minister used the opportunity to talk about her labour export policy in which the Ugandan government has created a statutory instrument that allows her ministry to register companies to export labour.
In Mukwaya’s words, “externalisation of labour is a milking cow”, she says and thus far, only two countries – Saudi Arabia and Jordan – have signed a bilateral agreement with the Republic of Uganda for labour exportation.
In Cameroon Ambazonia fighters, separatists in the northwest and south regions, frustrated Labour Day celebrations by preventing all social and commercial activities within cities in those regions. The lockdown was used as a form of protest against the national government.