Work Rights Centre's Labour Day Wish List

By Emma McClelland - 01 May 2022

Labour Day, also known as International Workers' Day, is celebrated around the world. It recognises the achievements of workers and calls for better working conditions and fair pay. The history of the day itself is said to go back to May 1886, when thousands of US workers went on strike to demand an eight-hour workday, back when some people were required to labour for up to 10-12 hours. While initially peaceful, the strike triggered unrest. 

On 3rd May, police officers shot at unarmed workers, killing one and injuring others. The next day, at a protest in Haymarket Square, an unknown individual threw a bomb, which killed 11 people. Eight workers were arrested, with seven of them being sentenced to death, even though their involvement was never proved.

The 4th May incident is now known as the Haymarket Affair and has become symbolic of the fight for workers' rights. The 1st May was henceforth chosen as International Workers' Day and protests for the eight-hour workday continued into the 1900s when it finally came into law for all public workers.

At the Work Rights Centre, acknowledging the centuries-long struggle for decent work and fair pay is important, and acts as a reminder of the collective power to change things for the better through advocacy, awareness raising and policy-influencing activities.

For Labour Day this year, we asked our team what problem they most want to solve for workers and how that could happen, as well as their tips on what workers can do to protect themselves from exploitation.

If you could solve one problem for workers with a click of your fingers, what would it be? 

Lora Tabakova, Service Provision and Development Manager: I'd make sure they had the right to statutory sick pay regardless of their weekly earnings and regardless of their employment status.

Bethany Birdsall, Service Provision Assistant: Inadequate/low wages.

Andrei Savitski, Service Provision Assistant: In an ideal world, every worker would have a sense of agency. But some particularly exploitative employers control people on temporary visas by threatening to get them revoked. Nobody should be made to feel this powerless. 

Kasia Figiel, Chief Operating Officer: I'd solve the huge inequality of pay between average workers and  top management/CEOs especially in large companies. 

What would actually help to solve this problem? 

Lora: The introduction of (and amendment of current) statute/regulations. The current weekly earnings threshold, which requires someone to earn an average of £123 per week before they can get sick pay, makes life hard for those in part time or zero-hours positions. As for the self-employed, they get nothing.

Bethany: A broad and intensive policy effort at the top (i.e. from government officials), which would implement a real 'living wage' for all workers, and uplift programmes like Universal Credit.

Andrei: There's no simple fix but greater scrutiny of employers' practices and tougher enforcement of laws that protect workers would help. 

Kasia: Introducing policy to curb extortionate CEO pay e.g. maximum CEO-worker pay ratios, curbing bonuses/dividends. 

Is there anything that workers can do to help protect themselves against exploitation?

Lora: Be vigilant; request terms and conditions to be in writing; communicate in writing with an employer; and check the employer's credentials beforehand - as a minimum. 

Bethany: Access information on their employment rights within their native languages - but this should be provided to them and made readily available by not just employers, but government bodies. 

Andrei: Knowledge is key and a worker aware of their rights is far less likely to be exploited. 

Kasia: Know their rights! 


While real gains have been made since the Haymarket Affair, there is still a long way to go to end precarious, exploitative and low-paid work. If you know someone in need of employment rights help, please let them know they can get in touch with our team. You can also choose to support us by making a donation. Thank you, and happy Labour Day! 

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