Henry van Dyke once said, “Heaven is blessed with perfect rest but the blessing of Earth is toil”. The first of May is celebrated in most countries around the world as Labour Day. To most people, Labour Day means a day off from work which gives people a chance to get away for a long weekend. But this year the celebration of this day, which is also called International Worker’s Day, comes while workers are staying at home and millions of them have already lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic.
This year’s Labour Day reminds of the struggle for gaining employees’ rights of better work conditions and shorter workday hours have continued for many decades before it succeeded at the end of the 19th century. The vital force of labour added materially to the highest standard of living and the greatest production the world has ever known and brought us closer to the realisation of our traditional ideals of economic and political democracy. It is appropriate, therefore, that we pay tribute on Labour Day to the creators of so much of people’s strength, freedom, and leadership.
There is no doubt that work is very important for people to earn what sustains their life. But what is more important is the well-being of workers because it is the purpose for which they work. Employers must know that their businesses succeed only because of a group of workers who put time and effort to come up with unique products and services. The young generation should know the history of Labour Day so that they will always be aware of advocating their rights while fulfilling their duties.
There will never be a time when all workers’ demands are fully satisfied, but both employees and employers have to understand each other’s needs and try to fulfil them as part of their ethical and social responsibility.
Nowadays, employers are increasingly inventing ways to take care of their workers in compliance with labour laws. This approach has been helping many of them to recruit the best employees. Recently, global as well as local ranking systems presented lists of the best companies to work for based on the benefits and flexible environments their employees enjoy. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic hit hard some of the strongest economies on earth, even these companies have been struggling to retain committed workers.
In addition to the rights of those who are already employed, Labour Day comes every year to remind governments and business leaders of the increasing rates of unemployment. It also brings to the forefront issues related to the gender gap in job opportunities and wage inequalities. Once again, this year’s Labour Day triggers more serious problems as nearly half of the global workforce at risk of losing livelihoods, according to the International Labour Orgnaisation (ILO). Without alternative income sources, these workers and their families will have no means to survive.
The impact of the pandemic crisis on global workforce through reduced working hours, and loss of livelihood, is expected to significantly increase in the second quarter, as more countries extended lockdown measures.
The ILO published, on its official website, on 29 April that “compared to pre-crisis levels (Q4 2019), a 10.5 per cent deterioration is now expected, equivalent to 305 million full-time jobs (assuming a 48-hour working week). The previous estimate was for a 6.7 per cent drop, equivalent to 195 million full-time workers. This is due to the prolongation and extension of lockdown measures.” Despite the economic stimulus packages that many countries, the ILO warned that “1.6 billion workers stand in immediate danger of having their livelihoods destroyed.”
Although the coronavirus pandemic has had tragic impacts on almost every country around the world, the effects are somehow different in various regions. According to the ILO Monitor third edition: COVID-19 and the world of work, the estimated percentage drop in aggregate working hours in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the pre-crisis baseline was 1.6% and 1.9% in the low-income countries and the lower-middle-income countries respectively. In the second quarter, however, the estimates are expected to increase to 8.8% and 12.5% respectively.
Governments are facing multifaceted challenges caused by the coronavirus crisis. They must balance their response in a way that ensures assistance to front-liners and infected patients, protects the livelihood of vulnerable social groups and at the same time supports businesses and the economy at large.
In the Arab world, the percentage drop in aggregate working hours is expected to rise from 1.8% in the first quarter to 10.3% in the second quarter. This significant increase is attributed to the fact that most countries started to enforce lockdown measures which resulted in business shutdowns in the second half of March, as COVID-19 cases were surging. The above figures from the ILO’s report apply to most of the OIC countries which are classified as low-income or lower-middle-income economies. Also, all 22 Arab states are OIC members.
The impact of COVID-19 may be worse on many of the OIC members than other countries around the world. This is because more than 85% of the employment in the low-income or lower-middle-income is categorized as informal, which means there are not entitled to receive full benefits and compensations when they lose their jobs. In Bangladesh, for example, reports say that at least one million (25%) of garment workers have been fired due to declining global demand amind the coronavirus crisis. It is the responsibility of governments and international organisations to assist marginalised, most affected people.