Africa marks Labor Day with calls for job creation, decent work, minimum wage

Africa marks Labor Day with calls for job creation, decent work, minimum wage

Kenyan opposition leader Raila Odinga uses May Day celebrations to call for resumption of nationwide protests over high cost of living

By Hassan Isilow

JOHANNESBURG (AA) - Calls for better working conditions, a decent living wage and the creation of more jobs were among those made across the continent Monday as Africans commemorated International Workers' Day.

“Fellow South Africans, there isn’t really much to celebrate this Workers’ Day when 12 million South Africans can’t find work,” John Steenhuisen, leader of the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA), said Monday.

Steenhuisen said youth unemployment stands at 56% and it would be sad to celebrate Workers’ Day with so many young people unemployed.

“How can we celebrate when workers come by with less and less of their wages because food prices have gone up by 14% and electricity by 19% in the last year?" he said in a video message for International Workers' Day.

Steenhuisen said the only thing South Africans can celebrate is living in a democracy which gives them the choice to choose which party should govern them. He urged South Africans to vote for his party in the 2024 elections, promising to create more jobs to lift South Africans from poverty.

The National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA) said this year’s Workers’ Day celebrations come against the backdrop of increasing poverty, inequality and the unemployment of many South Africans.

Unemployment stood at 32.7% in South Africa in 2022, according to government body Statistics South Africa.

Addressing a Workers’ Day rally for the Congress of South African Trade Unions (COSATU), a member of the tripartite alliance of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party, President Cyril Ramaphosa admitted there were still many socio-economic challenges affecting the country but promised his government would address them.

-Calls for renewed protests

Meanwhile, in Kenya, opposition leader Raila Odinga used May Day celebrations to urge workers to come out in large numbers and resume nationwide protests Tuesday over the high cost of living.

He said the protests would force the government to lower living costs after planned talks between the opposition and President William Ruto’s government were thrown into disarray.

Trade union boss Francis Atwoli urged Ruto to ensure safe working conditions and asked him to engage the opposition in talks and urged workers not to take part in the protests

Ruto led the country in commemorating Labor Day with a series of events to honor the contributions of workers to the country's economy.

Kenya's cost of living stood out in Ruto’s speech as he promised to lower living costs and provide better working conditions for workers.

-Demand for pay hike

In Nigeria, workers demanded a pay rise amid inflation and the high cost of living.

Public service workers gathered in the capital Abuja and across all 36 states Monday, asking the government to increase wages.

"The purchasing power of Nigerian workers has been depleted, and this is why we are asking the government to increase the salaries of workers," said Festus Osifo, president general of the Trade Union Congress (TUC) of Nigeria, the umbrella body of all workers’ associations in Nigeria, at a rally to mark Workers’ Day.

He said Nigerian workers are demanding a review of the current minimum wage of 30,000 naira ($65} to about N90,000 ($195).

During their rallies, workers in each of the 36 states of the federation asked the government to address inflation and the high cost of living in the country.

In Zambia, Blake Mulala, president of the Zambia Congress of Trade Unions, said most workers were earning far below the cost of living, which was currently pegged around $500 monthly for a family of five residing in the capital Lusaka.

"There is a need for the government to continue creating more incentives such as an improved wage and tax rebates for workers, especially those earning below the projected cost of living," Mulala said during festivities to mark the occasion.

International Labor Organization (ILO) Zambia country officer Peneyambeko Munkawa said there was a need for the government to focus on inequality, poverty alleviation and social protection by providing quality jobs.

Munkawa said there was also the need to harness occupational health and safety for workers in industries and the informal sector.

Gracing the occasion, President Hakainde Hichilema said his administration had put up several social safety nets to protect workers.

In Rwanda, the Rwanda Workers' Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR) called for better protection for miners and safety regulations amid reports of a series of fatal accidents in the country’s mining sector.

“We appeal to all employers to tighten safety regulations to protect the health of workers through the provision of protective gear and put in place regulations as per the work conditions,” CESTRAR said.

“Relevant authorities should pay particular attention in enforcing regulations in the mining sector through regular professional inspections to prevent fatal accidents, which have often been reported,” it said in a statement.

*Anadolu Agency correspondents Andrew Wasike in Kenya, James Kunda in Zambia, James Tasamba in Rwanda and Olanrewaju Kola in Nigeria contributed to this report.

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