A dedication to the labourers of the world

This article comes a day late but it is dedicated to the workers of the world. Labour day in Singapore is on the 1st of May every year. Today is 2nd of May. Anyone who bothers about Labour day, read on.

There is no labour in this world that does not need any physical and mental activities regardless of whether there is machineries involved in the work. There is no work that is not paid for in this present day – slavery is history and should remain so.

Unethical employers and employees aside, for those who are good workers and industrious, and fortunate enough for their work to be recognised and rewarded (with fair assessment and appraisal) by their management can be the most gratifying moment any person can have. For those who are less fortunate, the work may continue but the dissatisfaction will persists – the going gets tougher but the toughness never goes away. What makes up good labour? Does the white-collar worker deserves more recognition than the blue-collar worker? Does the pink-collar worker deserves more scrutiny than any other collar workers simply because in the service industry, good customer service is ever more desirable and critical in the reputation of a company? Does labour always mean unhealthy competition and no deserved recognition from the management?

Labour Day is an annual holiday to celebrate the achievements of workers. Labour Day has its origins in the labour union movement, specifically the eight-hour day movement, which advocated eight hours for work, eight hours for recreation, and eight hours for rest. For anyone who lives in any cosmopolitan city, we all know that eight hours is no longer just  for work, some might not even have eight hours of sleep while others work more so that they can spend more during their recreational hours – recreation does not mean family time though.

It is not that the title of being the employee-of-the-month gives someone the happiness equivalent to that of someone who is awarded the Nobel Prize. It is certainly not the rewards associated with the title, let alone being the Nobel prize winner. For those who feel that recognition is important in one’s work, they understand that each effort and idea made an impact in the company and positive changes can be felt. The recognition makes one feel that he is not just anybody that simply do without thinking or think without doing. If recognition of someone’s work is anything to go, it certainly fulfils the esteem needs of a person while making him/her feel valuable as a person and as a worker. The recognition and achievement are the means but the end is pride, but not conceitedness. It is pride for both the employee and the employer. Pride as defined by Aristotle in his Nicomachean ethics – balanced ambitiousness concerning smaller honour. Workers are not Nobel prize winners and does not have the same social status as the Nobel laureates but they are also humans who value dignity and hard work, and they are certainly not robots or animals that cannot feel (robots) or think (animals). They also do not enjoy the same social status as actors and actresses or those in the creative industry that are recognised for their popularity and successes.

What is labour? I shall define labour to the broader economic sense. Labour is the aggregate of all human physical and mental effort used in creation of goods and services. Labour is a primary factor of production. The size of a nation’s labor force is determined by the size of its adult population, and the extent to which the adults are either working or are prepared to offer their labor for wages.

Physical and mental efforts. There is no labour in this world that does not require any physical and mental activities. This is regardless of the social classes within the society. There is labour that requires mostly physical work and some mental work (construction workers); there is labour that requires moderate physical work and moderate mental work (those in the retail have to stand most times); there is labour that requires some physical work and mostly mental work (scientists and researchers); and there is labour that requires   little or no physical work and mostly mental work (CEOs, politicians and actors). These physical and mental efforts are only considered to be productive when the work is being measured to be of useful output – productivity is the measure of efficiency of a person, machine, factory, system. etc, in producing the same amount of output by using lesser inputs or resources. Productivity is straightforward when measuring physical labour but it isn’t so when it comes to mental efforts. Mental efforts of a machine, factory or system can come from anybody in the structure of the work or system being measured. The CEO of a company overlooks the day-to-day operations but he still reports to the board of directors of the organisation. He is someone who provides mostly mental efforts and no physical labour in the organisation. Labour day is certainly not a tribute to mental efforts alone and has more to do with the origins of the labour union movement which everyone has taken for granted, it seems.

We all agree that labour in the economic sense is the physical and mental efforts used in creation of goods and services. There is hardly any dispute where the definition of productivity is concerned. However when it comes to the recognitions and achievements of the workers, there is always dispute of some form or another. In certain social milieu where the cultural values are deemed as more important than any other definition for ethics and labour (be it labour in creative or productive sense), Labour day doesn’t seem to be a day worth celebrating for those who truly contribute, much less for those who do not deserve the recognitions and achievements of the workers – public holidays is only a day of rest (from labour) and has less or nothing to do with the significance of the public holiday – National Day is not about the celebrating the independence of the nation but a day where the government make additional efforts to highlight the progress and prosperity of the nation; Valentine’s Day is not celebrating the meaning of romance but a day that the cost of roses is highest in the year; and Christmas Day is not a remembrance of the birth of Jesus Christ and him being the son of God but a day for gift exchanges. My birthday is not a public holiday but a celebration of me getting older by a year without being any wiser!

What is the achievement of the workers? From the origins of the labour union movement, the eight-hour work day movement no longer seems to hold true or valid. When a person shows his discontent at work for working more than eight hours, he might be faced with unfriendly management and colleagues. When a person demands recognition at work, he might be seen as showing too much pride that perhaps is not deserving. When a person is being discriminated for doing good work, he might be seen as trying too hard to impress because the cultural values of the workers in the company is one that is slack and not flourishing. As mentioned earlier, unethical employers and employees aside, the achievement of the worker, in the 21st century, with a work schedule of more than eight hours a day, is his ability to master his responsibilities in his job and play a positive role in the function of the company (within and among all the departments). This is my definition of a good employee that deserves the honour of the labour union movement that celebrates Labour Day as a public holiday. This is on top, if not on par, with being what is productive as defined by the employer. Good employees are rare these days but good employers are also of the far and few. With such globalised economy, the educational qualifications of the employers, employees and workers seemed more and more professionally oriented and human goodness less and less of importance. Life seems more narrowly focused on the achievements of persons than the greater good of a society. Ethics are being forsaken at the cost of selfish personal gratification – this is so when someone’s contributions to the company is being deliberately attributed to the success of another simply because the person is not showing respect to the cultural values of the society regardless of the International Declaration of Human Rights. Ethics are not universal in that there isn’t an ISO standard for every human beings to follow a particular set of ethics. People follow ISO standard because there are particular economic benefits and social gains (of acquiring quality goods and services). People are not coerced to follow any religious beliefs or cultural social norms but there are those who discriminate others based on social status, cultural biases and social class.

Labour day is blind to such narrow discriminations but for those employees who know that they are contributing positively or those who are at least good employees (without feeling inappropriate or useless about not contributing positively but nonetheless provide certain positive symbiotic work relationship at the workplace), I feel and think that you are more worthy to live your life than those who scheme and plot to gain an unfair advantage for wealth and glory. And in the true spirit of Labour Day, all workers should take matters in their own hands and discourage those unethical employers or employees who thrived not on merits but selfish connivance.

Know your rights as an employees and employer. Here are two websites that I recently visited personally about my previous employment – Ministry of Manpower (for the Employment Act) and Tripartite Alliance for Fair and Progressive Employment Practices (for my unfair dismissal). I seriously wondered how MOM or TAFEP is able to differentiate a true story from a cock and bull one.


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