Why We Celebrate Labour Day On 1 May

Singapore workers

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 (like Hari Raya Puasa last Saturday), as well as whether businesses can still ask employees to work and how much they have to pay them.

Read Also: Return Of The Long Weekends: What Employers And Employees Need To Know About Public Holidays That Fall On The Weekends

How 1 May Became Labour Day

While many may just view Labour Day as another public holiday, it has its roots 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 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 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 globe 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 ensuing public trials that were highly contentious.

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

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