This week we celebrated Workers’ Day as did most of Europe. In the US, Labour Day is celebrated in September and in the UK, they actually do not have a designated holiday. On the other hand, both China and Russia celebrate Labour Day.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to remember the relevance of Labour Day. This is happening not just in Malta but elsewhere as well. As the structure of most economies has changed, the traditional concept associated with Labour Day has not been updated to help it maintain its relevance. There is probably a majority of countries around the world where there are no effective trade unions and worker representation.

It may be said that trade unions are a concept more in line with values in Western Europe, as the EU amply shows. In the EU there is a great deal of effort to ensure that there is effective tri-partite (government, employers and workers’ representatives) dialogue and bi-partite dialogue (employers and workers’ representatives).

The so-called ‘voice of the workers’ is given space, even if some may feel (and probably rightly so) that not enough space is given.

However, social trends and economic trends are working against providing such effective space.

Workers’ Day and any other counterpart must be given a relevance in today’s world, as it did in the past

Let us take an example. Many of us know the joys – or sorrows – of buying online. Some have got so addicted to it that they cannot do without it. Yet one wonders how many stop to think how these global names are treating their employees. We could not really care as long as we get the product we bought online within two or three days from the day we ordered it.

Before we turn our face the other way because we would rather not face reality, let us stop to think whether any of us would accept to have a bracelet tied to one’s wrist such that the employer can check the number of times one has gone to the restroom during a day’s work. Or how many of us would consider it correct to dismiss a person from one’s job because one has reported sick, not more times than the limit allowed by law, but more times than management thinks is acceptable. Yet these are the practices of some of these online shopping portals.

We could remember the incident in Bangladesh where a building housing a clothing factory collapsed, killing 1,134 persons. How safe are today’s workplaces around the world? And do enough persons bother about the fact as long as they can find their preferred brands at affordable prices?

Where does all this lead us? The challenge is not just about appreciating the value of upholding workers’ rights and giving workers effective representation. If it were to be reduced to just that, then one may say that in a number of countries these are enshrined in the law and as such there is nothing else left to do. Yet we know that enshrining something in the law does not necessarily make it effective. And what about those countries where such legal rights are not as yet protected by the law?

Workers’ Day and any other counterpart must be given a relevance in today’s world, as it did in the past. This requires fresh thinking. However, we do not require fresh thinking only on this issue. The political class seems to be having problems with presenting a new way of thinking to address most of today’s problems. This explains the rise in popularity of populist parties, which do not express any fresh thinking on today’s social and economic problems but only anger.

We can start by considering the human person in one’s totality and not only as a producer and a consumer. We can then place the human person at the centre of society and at the centre of the economy and promote the common good rather than the selfish needs of individuals. This could be a start to making this day relevant again.

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