ANC President, Cyril Ramaphosa, has paid tribute to the country’s workers – saying they have sacrificed their lives during the coronavirus pandemic to ensure that others are safe.

He was speaking at Cosatu House in Johannesburg, where he joined South Africa’s largest labour federation in its virtual event to mark Workers’ Day.

The ANC has called for workers to unite as the country celebrates May Day.

Ramaphosa addresses Cosatu’s 2021 International Workers’ Day event:

The day, which workers around the world observe is known as Labour Day in most countries. It is aimed at celebrating the achievement of workers and highlighting the challenges they continue to face.

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The Freedom Front Plus says government’s celebration of Workers Day is a farce and a slap in the face for workers and the unemployed in the country.

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The Freedom Front Plus has lamented the country’s high unemployment rate, the over-regulation of the labour market and the Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Department’s recent to bring 24 Cuban engineers to the country to help resolve water infrastructure issues.

“Economic prosperity is hampered by red tape and overregulation such as that through BBE regulation and a complete failure by the Department of Labour to deliver of its expanded mandate of employment creation which is evident in the highest unemployment rate we have recorded to date.

In the midst of one of the greatest unemployment crises we have seen in the history of South Africa the government opts to employ Cuban engineers, while we have perfectly eligible engineers in our own country to fill these posts for one example this is a slap in the face of every South African and so the ANC government should not even be celebrating Workers Day,” says Freedom Front Plus MP and party Spokesperson, Heloise Denner.

The Inkatha Freedom Party (IFP) has also raised concerns in its Workers’ Day message over the hiring of the Cuban engineers and doctors.

“The past contributions made by Cuba in the fight for South Africa’s democracy cannot be ignored. However, how can the South African government justify creating job opportunities for foreign doctors and engineers when there are hundreds, if not thousands, of qualified South African professionals sitting at home, desperate for an opportunity to work,” says IFP President, Velenkosini Hlabisa.

Safety of healthcare workers

The DA says the country will not be safe until all workers and frontline healthcare workers are safe.

In its message on May Day, the party paid tribute to healthcare workers who have fallen in the line of duty over the last year. The country’s official opposition also slammed government’s slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines.

“For us commemorating Workers Day means putting a particular spotlight on government’s shoddy and criminally slow of the vaccine of COVID-19. We cannot celebrate Workers’ Day this year without being absolutely honest about the fight that healthcare workers have to wage when our own government is not pulling up its socks in making sure that it gets a vaccine to all healthcare workers, to all frontline workers as quickly as possible,” says DA National Spokesperson, Siviwe Gwarube.

‘End capitalism’

The African Transformation Movement (ATM) says this day continues to remind the party of its duty to defeat capitalism.

“Corporate greed remains a huge hindrance for the progress of workers in South Africa
and the rest of the World. Furthermore, it was during the heights of the coronavirus outbreak, that we truly saw the value of the working class. It was those exploited men and women, the essential workers, but when critically looking at their salaries they are a reflection of poverty and how this country does not value their contribution,” says the party in a statement.

The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) has also recommitted itself to the struggle of South African workers.

The Congress of the People (Cope) has urged South Africans to use their power to improve their circumstances.

“Workers must unite to build one union, one federation, one industry. Workers must uses their power to vote out any corrupt government that have looted this country workers are losing their jobs in their thousands retrenchments are the order of the day workers are having the power in their hands to change things in this country,” says Cope Spokesperson, Dennis Bloem.

Need for educating workers

Labour analyst, Mamokgethi Molopyane, says the focus of this year’s International Workers’ Day should be on the need for unions to educated workers on how to adapt to life in times of the coronavirus pandemic.

Workers’ Day was born from the protracted struggle for workers’ rights and social justice of the late 1800s. It has been a holiday in many countries since 1891.

In South Africa, Workers’ Day was officially recognised and observed since the first democratic elections in 1994. Molopyane says the relevance of unions depends on their understanding of how best to serve workers.

“For workers it will always be about better working conditions, better wages. How do they improve and redefine their skills in a work environment that is continuously going to be remote, that is going to be mostly a hybrid of technology and human capacity,” says Molopyane.