On the 1st of May every year, Zimbabwe joins the rest of the world in celebrating International Workers' Day. International Workers Day originated in the late 19th century when several United States of America labour movements went on strike, demanding a standard workday of eight hours. The Workers' Day celebrations date back to 1 May 1886.
May Day, as the day is sometimes called, is normally celebrated to promote the requirement of eight-hour work day and better working conditions for employees especially in the formal sector. Previously, the working conditions of both public and private employees were very dismal, as they would work for 10 to 16 hours a day sometimes in appalling and unsafe conditions. Deaths, injuries and other dreadful conditions were very common at the workplace during the 19th century. Such sub human conditions were barriers to national development in most countries until the eight hour workday was declared and working conditions improved.
As we celebrate Workers' Day this year, the country needs to spare a thought for informal sector workers as they currently constitute the bulk of workers in our economy.
The International Labor Office defines the informal economy as, ‘all economic activities by workers or economic units that are in practice and not covered or sufficiently covered by formal arrangements.'
Hence, the informal economy has become an integral part of our economy and its future development.
The country can ignore this sector at its own peril as both formal and informal sector players contribute immensely to the growth of the nation. Players in the informal sector include cross border traders, vendors, carpenters and various workmen among others. The majority of the work done by these informal employees is usually carried out by a single person. For instance, some sell their products from covered stalls such as Gulf complex while others sell their wares at open spaces. However, most of these informal traders live and work under precarious conditions. Some players in the informal sector operate at places where there are no toilets, exposing themselves to a sure health hazard.
The informal workers may be invisible to some, but they play an important role in boosting the country's economy with reports alleging that they contribute about 40% of the GDP. Hence, May Day should be a day where responsible authorities should endeavour to address the challenges that are faced by informal employees across the nation. On the other hand, informal employees should be encouraged to act in an organised manner so that local authorities recognize their labour rights and improve their working conditions.
For so long, informal workers were not recognized as workers who are eligible to be covered by labour standards and social protection. However, like any other employees, informal traders need access to social security. Employees in the informal sector should be encouraged to form their workers union that represent them on issues to do with the improvement of their working conditions.
As May Day nears, employees in the civil service should also join the rest of the world in the commemorations. It is laudable that Government, which is the biggest employer is doing its best to improve the living standards of its workers despite the harsh economic environment that the country is currently encountering.
Some scholars believe that without labour nothing prospers. Therefore, all workers across the nation should be encouraged to work extra hard so as to turn around Zimbabwe's economic fortunes.
- Peacemaker Zano