Why We Celebrate Labour Day On 1 May

Why Celebrate May Day

Labour Day, or International Workers’ Day, is celebrated each year on 1 May by many countries around the world. In Singapore, it is one of the 11 public holidays that employees enjoy.

Specifically in Singapore, Labour Day was gazetted as a public holiday in 1960. Covered under the Employment Act, there are clear rules governing public holidays. This includes what happens when a public holiday falls on a weekend (i.e. the following Monday will then be a Public Holiday), as well as whether businesses can ask employees to work and how much they have to pay them.

Read Also: How Much Employers Have To Pay Employees For Working On A Public Holiday?

How 1 May Became Labour Day

While Labour Day may be viewed as just another public holiday, its roots began in the fight for workers’ rights in the late 1800s in the US. During the time, rapid industrialisation led to the exploitation of workers – who were forced to toil for 16 hours a day and often in unsafe working conditions. 

As a result, workers organised into trade unions, held protests and strikes for an 8-hour work-day and a safer working environment. During one of these strikes in Chicago in 1886, dubbed the “Haymarket Affair”, a bomb detonated – killing and wounding both civilians and police.

To commemorate the incident, a pan-national organisation called the International Socialist Labour Congress declared 1 May as International Workers’ Day. Today, many countries across the world observe 1 May as Labour Day.

In the US, however, Labour Day is observed on the first Monday in September. As a date, 1 May has been tarnished by the bloodshed from the Haymarket Affair as well as the highly contentious public trials that followed.

Read Also: What Is The Average Working Hours In Singapore For Full-Time And Part-Time Employees

How Singapore Protects Workers’ Rights

In Singapore, workers’ rights are enshrined in the Employment Act. While many of us enjoy peaceful working conditions, we cannot take it for granted. The National Trades Union Council (NTUC) – a confederation of trade unions and network of professional associations and partners across all sectors in Singapore – leads the labour movement in Singapore.

With the objectives to keep workers employable for life and help Singapore stay competitive, NTUC promotes tripartism – with unions, employers, and government collaborating working in cooperation rather than via confrontation.

Championing fairness in the workplace, both employers and employees can get advice and support from NTUC, especially when disputes arise. Workers can access subsidised legal help, and education on safer workplace practices.

As part of its latest exercise to gather on-the-ground insights – on the needs, wants and aspirations – of workers in Singapore, NTUC is calling on employees from all walks of life to participate in its #EveryWorkerMatters Conversations.

Read Also: How Singaporean Workers Can Redefine The Future Of Work

This article was first published on 30 April 2023 and has been updated with additional information.

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