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May Day Statement: Let us strive to create a future where no worker is left behind!

On this International Workers’ Day, the Alternative Information and Development Centre urges the working class to reflect on the significance of this occasion and the status of workers’ rights in our country. This year, the celebration of Worker’s Day is subdued. This is not because we do not appreciate the hardworking individuals who are the backbone of our economy but rather because we recognize somberly the challenges that South African workers face today.

May Day, historically a time of celebration and solidarity for workers around the world, is especially significant this year. In South Africa, we stand at a crossroads, where the strength of our trade unions and the plight of precarious workers intersect to shape the landscape of our labour force as we mark 30 years of democracy. 

The weakening of trade unions, once powerful champions of workers’ rights and advocates for fair labour practices, is a cause for concern. The labour movement, born out of the struggles and sacrifices of generations past, has historically served as a beacon of hope for workers seeking better wages, improved working conditions, and greater dignity in the workplace. However, in recent years, it has faced numerous obstacles, from the changing economy, and political factions to internal divisions, that have eroded its effectiveness and undermined its ability to represent the interests of workers effectively.

At the same time, we are witnessing a troubling trend towards the increase of precarious work arrangements. Too many workers find themselves trapped in temporary, casual, or contract positions, deprived of job security, benefits, and the basic protections afforded to permanent employees. These precarious workers often toil in the shadows of the formal economy, vulnerable to exploitation, abuse, and neglect, with little resource for recourse or redress.

Precarious work affects a significant portion of our workforce, spanning across various industries, from agriculture to manufacturing, from hospitality to the gig economy. With no long-term contracts or stable employment agreements, these individuals live in constant uncertainty, unsure of whether they will have a job tomorrow or where their next paycheck will come from. This instability not only affects their financial well-being but also takes a toll on their mental health and overall quality of life. 

Furthermore, precarious workers face difficult working standards, no benefits, and low wages, making it difficult for them to support themselves and their families. The high levels of unemployment mean that workers have no choice but to remain in these jobs or risk facing perpetual unemployment.

This is why we have committed ourselves to fighting hand in hand with the Community Health Workers (CHWs) who are fighting for dignified working conditions and permanent employment by the Department of Health in the Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. CHWs are forced to work long hours with no compensation for overtime, and the majority of these CHWs are women. 

Another major challenge is the conditions in the public sector, such as below-inflation salary increases offered to civil servants and hiring freezes across government departments due to government austerity measures. Civil servants, the backbone of governmental operations, are often the unsung heroes behind the scenes, ensuring the smooth functioning of public services. However, the current austerity measures have had profound and detrimental effects on these dedicated individuals and the services they provide. 

We have seen how budget cuts within government departments have created a wasteland. Public hospitals are without beds and medication, public schools are without textbooks, and some community clinics are being closed. This has put an immense strain on civil servants tasked with doing more with less. Hiring freezes and unfulfilled vacancies have become a standard across the public service. This increases workloads for existing staff and creates a sense of uncertainty and instability among civil servants. Marginalised groups, including women from low-income communities, are bearing the brunt of austerity-induced cutbacks as they are more reliant on accessible and quality public services like primary healthcare. 

As we mark Workers’ Day, let us draw strength from the struggles of those who came before us and recommit ourselves to the cause of justice and dignity in the workplace. Let us reaffirm our solidarity with all workers, regardless of their employment status or affiliation, and stand united in the fight for fair wages, decent working conditions, and respect for human rights. 

It is incumbent upon us, as individuals, communities, and nations, to work tirelessly towards building a more equitable and inclusive society where every worker is valued, protected, and empowered to live a life of dignity and fulfilment. Let us harness the spirit of Workers’ Day to reignite the flames of activism and advocacy, and together, let us strive to create a future where no worker is left behind.

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