By: Abdurrahman Shamlan
Labor Day is also referred to as May Day because it marks the day when workers’ unions of the world celebrate the achievements of the workers and honor their contributions to society.
But, while the entire world celebrates Labor Day this week, most Yemenis regard it as a normal day with some of them considering it a western habit. Many people whom National Yemen asked don’t even know when Labor Day is.
A major reason why Labor Day goes unnoticed is because thousands of Yemenis find themselves without a job.
The rate of unemployment in Yemen has only gone up recently as thousands of workers were laid off when their companies shut down due to the unrest that plagued the country in 2011. But even before the unrest broke out, unemployment in Yemen was estimated at as high as 35 percent.
Construction, which employs thousands of daily laborers, has almost stopped entirely. The price of cement, steel, blocks and other materials rose drastically due to the increase of oil and diesel preventing any new projects. Mohammed Daram, a contractor, told National Yemen that construction works were badly affected by the recent events.
“Since last year, I only carried out two small jobs which were two concrete roofs for two small houses. We used to get a work more before but because of the hikes in the price of material people are waiting until prices return to normal when things settle down,” Saram said.
Making matters only worse, a few months before he was deposed, former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh recruited more than 60,000 new employees in an effort intended to placate the angry protesters calling for his removal.
Now a year later, the new employees still haven’t been paid. It was only this month that both Yemen’s parliament and the cabinet passed the general budget for 2012. It was decided that the new recruits will be paid as of April and they will only get salaries for three months.
Apathy for Labor Day
In Yemen only a few people care about the Labor Day as most workers don’t get any recognition on this day. They only consider it as an official holiday.
Om Osama, a female teacher in the capital and one of the new recruits, told National Yemen that the Labor Day is next Tuesday, but she stressed that she is only eager for that day because it’s a public holiday.
“I only regard the Labor Day as a holiday with no special meaning,” she said.
“Both the government and the private sector in Yemen don’t appreciate the workers’ efforts. They consider the laborers as tools and they try to exploit them as much as possible. I hope some day the workers will actually be celebrated, rewarded and honored for their achievements,” Om Osama added.
There are many of the Yemeni people that even if they heard about the Labor Day before, they wouldn’t know what day of the year’s calendar it is. Those people, however, can be forgiven for caring little about this day because in Yemen there are no rewards, no celebrations, no honoring for workers on this day.
Mohammed Ahmed Mosleh, a soldier in the Rescue Department, said that “we [the soldiers] don’t have any day for laborers. You can go and ask those who work at civil sector. They might have any idea about this day. But, for us, we even work on public holidays.”
Bilal Hussein al-Makalh, an accountant at Yemen Post, said that, “to me, Labor Day is a normal day. I only care about the Labor Day because it’s a holiday. We [Yemenis] are not like the other laborers in the world because we don’t celebrate this occasion like they do. In Yemen there is no respect whatsoever for the laborers’ achievements or contributions.”
Since the Yemeni revolution broke out in February of last year, many workers unions went on strike, demanding rights and better treatment. Apparently, the revolution taught the Yemeni people how to call for their rights.
Take cleaning workers, for example. They went on strike twice this year, leaving the streets of the capital as well as of the other cities across the country sink into piles of accumulated garbage. They demanded that the government grant them permanent jobs and raise their very low salaries. Only when their demands were met by Prime Minister Mohammed Salem Ba-Sindwa did they end their strike.
When National Yemen asked one of the cleaners about Labor Day, he replied, “What is Labor Day?” He swore to God that he had never heard about this day before.
“We work in a profession that every one looks down to. No body seems to appreciate the crucial job we do except when we went on strike. When the people saw the garbage piles get bigger and bigger, they came to understand how important our jobs are,” Saleh said.
When asked about the Labor Day, he said, ” Labor Day! I know there is a day for laborers but I don’t know when this day is and what people do on it.”
Like cleaning workers, many laborers unions went on strikes this year either calling for their rights or demanding that their allegedly corrupt bosses quit their posts.
While some people considered the Labor Day as a mere holiday, some others insisted that it’s a western habit which should not be emulated. Also, some said they don’t know any thing about this day.
Despite all of this, some Yemenis expressed their hope that the revolution will help make the workers be appreciated and make the Labor Day special.