Why you may (or may not) have worked on May Day

State governments use their discretion in declaring a holiday

Published - May 01, 2017 08:58 pm IST - New Delhi

Workers and members of various trade unions take part in a rally on International Workers' Day in Bengaluru on Monday.

Workers and members of various trade unions take part in a rally on International Workers' Day in Bengaluru on Monday.

Depending on where you live in India, May Day may or may not have been a holiday for you. That’s because State governments use their discretion in declaring a holiday on May Day since it is not a national holiday across the country.

May Day, also known as the International Workers’ Day, originated in 1884, when the Federation of Organised Trades and Labour Unions of the United States and Canada demanded an eight-hour workday.

“Workers went on a strike demanding an eight-hour workday, which led to the Haymarket Riots of 1886 in Chicago. It eventually resulted in the official sanctioning of the eight-hour workday. The day is marked as a public holiday in over 80 countries to celebrate the accomplishments of the working class,” said Dr. Otojit Kshetrimayum, Associate Fellow and Coordinator, V.V. Giri National Labour Institute under the Union Labour and Employment Ministry.

In India, Labour Day was first celebrated on May 1, 1923 on the Triplicane beach in Chennai and the celebrations were organised by the Labour Kisan Party of Hindustan, founded by Malayapuram Singaravelu Chettiar, one of the founders of the Communist Party of India.

“The Labour Kisan party introduced May Day celebrations in Madras. Comrade Singaravelar presided over the meeting. A resolution was passed, stating that the government should declare May Day as a holiday. The president of the party explained the non-violent principles of the party. There was a request for financial aid. It was emphasised that workers of the world must unite to achieve independence,” The Hindu reported on May 2, 1923. May Day currently is a holiday across Tamil Nadu.

“Until 1957, May Day was not a holiday in any of the States in India. When a Communist-led government was first formed in 1957 in Kerala, it declared a holiday on May 1 marking Labour’s Day,” Centre of Indian Trade Unions leader A.K. Padmanabhan said.

Bengal’s stance

Interestingly, West Bengal under the United Front Government of Jyoti Basu declared May 1 as a public holiday for the first time in 1967 and also requested all industrial establishments in the State to declare it an additional paid holiday. It’s exactly half a century since May Day became a holiday in West Bengal.

The practice of declaring May Day a holiday was scrapped more than a decade ago in erstwhile United Andhra Pradesh and the Government of the Telangana is continuing the same practice.

In present Andhra Pradesh too, May Day is not a government holiday. However, it’s a holiday for those working in shops and establishments under the Shops and Establishments Act, 1953. Likewise, it is holiday for workers covered by the Factories Act, 1948 and for those in banks under the Negotiable Instruments Act. May Day is also a holiday in Karnataka.

Different reason

On the other hand, May 1 is a holiday across Maharashtra not because of May Day but since the State was created on the very same day in 1960.

There is no gazetted holiday for State government employees on May Day in Rajasthan. Every year, the Labour Department issues an “appeal” to employers to give a paid holiday to their workers on the May Day. Additional Labour Commissioner C.B.S. Rathore told The Hindu that it was just a request, which was not legally enforceable.

In Odisha, all government offices were open on May Day even as some industrial units run by the State government remained closed.

According to Subas Singh, Chairperson of Odisha Building & Other Construction Workers’ Welfare Board, there was no gazette notification issued by the State government to keep those industrial units closed on Labour Day.

(With inputs from State bureaus)

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