The first day of May is celebrated as International Labour day in more than 80 countries. In India too, the trade unions celebrate the dignity of labour around the country. Most offices and industries are closed.
The question which one may ask – how could I celebrate the labour day ? All of us see exploitation of labour all around us. Let us start from the family and the home. Is our servant maid, driver and other household help treated with respect and dignity. Are we ensuring that we do not over work them beyond reasonable hours of work. Are we promoting child labour by engaging young girls or boys at home for taking care of our kids and then justifying it by stating we are taking care of poor children by ensuring they get food and shelter in our homes.
How can we make a difference ? In my view, if we focus on our homes , communities and work places and look at how we could contribute to ensure dignity and respect for labour – it would be a great step forward and a wonderful way of celebrating Labour day. Can I promise to myself that I will never employ a child in my house for doing household chores ? On the other hand, is it possible for me to contribute to educate the kids of our servants in their education and ensuring that they get beyond school and realize their true potential irrespective of their family backgrounds .
If we look at the communities or societies around us, can we ensure that our associations do not indulge in unfair labour practices or deploy men or women for unreasonable working hours. We can also ensure that all labour working at our homes or communities are paid fair wages, which is at least above the minimum wages prescribed for such labour.
At the work place, while most progressive organisations do provide fair working conditions and ensure fair wages, we still have a large section of third party employees and contract labour in our factories and offices. Can we ensure that we provide fair and safe working conditions for them too ? Can we ensure clean drinking water, toilets, canteen and crèches for working women in this sector ? Can we contribute to the education of the children of contract labour working in our offices and factories ?
While the government has to ensure the safety and protection of labour along with the employers, it is individuals like us who can make a difference to a large section of the working population who we term as unorganised labour. There are no unions to protect their rights and no government to enforce legislation.
In my view, if each one of us commit to take care of all the people working in our homes, communities and offices to ensure dignity and respect of labour, we would pay tribute to the labour on “International labour day” in the best possible way.
Let us commit to make a difference from today.
S Ramesh Shankar