Labour, Jobs and Employment – Harmonization of labour laws, gender gap, unemployment, etc.

May Day and the Challenge of Regulating Working Hours


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: labour day and international and national labour laws

Mains level: labour rights, issues over increasing working hours and labour laws

May Day

Central Idea

  • May 1st commemorates the historic Haymarket Square affair and is celebrated globally as International Labour Day or May Day. The day holds immense significance as it signifies the struggle of workers to secure their rights. However, the idea of reducing working hours to improve social welfare is still a dream for many in India, despite it being adopted by several countries. Instead, we see a growing trend of increasing working hours, especially in the garment and electronic industries, in the name of increasing productivity.

Significances of International Labour Day

  • Honouring the labour movement: International Labour Day is an occasion to pay tribute to the labour movement and honour the contributions of workers worldwide.
  • Celebrating the rights of workers: The day is an opportunity to celebrate the hard-won rights of workers, including the right to fair wages, safe working conditions, and the right to form unions.
  • Advocating for workers’ rights: International Labour Day is also a platform to raise awareness about the need to protect and advocate for workers’ rights, particularly in countries where labour laws are weak or not enforced.
  • Recognizing the role of labour unions: Labour unions have played a significant role in securing better working conditions and benefits for workers. On International Labour Day, the contributions of labour unions are recognized and celebrated.
  • Promoting social justice: The day promotes social justice by advocating for fair treatment of workers, regardless of their gender, race, or other factors that may lead to discrimination or exploitation.
  • Remembrance of struggles: International Labour Day is also an opportunity to remember the struggles of workers in the past and the sacrifices made by those who fought for workers’ rights.
  • Building solidarity among workers: The day fosters a sense of solidarity among workers, encouraging them to come together to promote their rights and advocate for better working conditions.

May Day

What are the reasons behind growing trend of increasing working hours?

  • Global competition: Companies feel pressure to work longer hours to keep up with international competition and maintain their market share.
  • Cost-cutting: Employers may increase working hours to cut costs and boost productivity, rather than hiring more workers.
  • Increased demand: As demand for goods and services grows, companies may feel the need to work longer hours to meet that demand.
  • Technology: Advances in technology have made it easier to work remotely, leading to an expectation of being available and connected 24/7.
  • Flexibility: Employers may offer more flexible schedules, but with the expectation of working longer hours to complete tasks.
  • Emphasis on economic growth: Mainstream economists prioritize economic growth, even if it is at the expense of labor rights and human rights. They believe that working longer hours and increasing exports will lead to economic growth.
  • Subsidies and exemptions: Regional governments offer subsidies and exemptions to attract global and domestic capital, and employers may prefer weaker unions in exchange for these incentives.

May Day

Facts for prelims

International Labour Day

  • International Labour Day, also known as May Day, originated in the United States in the late 19th century when labor unions and socialist movements organized demonstrations and strikes calling for better working conditions, higher wages, and an eight-hour workday.
  • On May 1, 1886, workers in Chicago organized a massive protest rally, and the following days were marked by violent clashes between police and protesters.
  • In 1889, the International Socialist Conference declared May 1 as International Workers’ Day to commemorate the Chicago protests and honor workers around the world. Since then, May Day has been celebrated globally as a day to recognize the contributions of workers and to advocate for their rights and fair treatment.

Maharashtra day

  • May 1 is celebrated as Maharashtra Day to commemorate the formation of the state of Maharashtra.
  • On May 1, 1960, the Bombay Reorganization Act came into effect, and the state of Maharashtra and Gujarat were formed. Hence, May 1 is celebrated as Maharashtra Day in Maharashtra, India.
  • It is a public holiday in the state, and various cultural events and parades are held to mark the occasion.

What are the concerns over increasing working hours?

  • Adversely Affecting Health: Extending working hours can lead to physical and mental fatigue, stress, and burnout, which can affect the health of the workers. This, in turn, can lead to an increase in absenteeism, accidents, and medical costs.
  • Diminishing Marginal Productivity: As the hours of work increase, the efficiency and productivity of the worker may decrease, leading to a decline in the quality of output. It can also lead to a decrease in the quality of life of the workers, as they have less time for family and leisure activities.
  • Violation of Labour Rights: Increasing working hours can be a violation of the fundamental rights of the workers, as it denies them the right to rest and leisure, which are essential for the physical and mental well-being of the workers.
  • Job Insecurity: Increasing working hours can lead to job insecurity as employers may replace workers with automation or outsourcing to cut costs. It can also lead to a decline in wages, as employers may argue that they are paying for more working hours.
  • Adverse Impact on Women Workers: Increasing working hours can disproportionately affect women workers, who may be responsible for domestic chores and childcare. Long working hours can lead to a decline in their physical and mental health and an increase in their workload, which can have an adverse impact on their family life.

May Day

Why it is necessary to regulate working hours?

  • Protecting workers’ health: Working long hours can have adverse effects on workers’ physical and mental health. It can lead to fatigue, stress, sleep disorders, and other health issues.
  • Ensuring safety at the workplace: Workers who are overworked may become fatigued, which can increase the risk of accidents and injuries at the workplace. Regulating working hours can help ensure a safe and healthy work environment.
  • Promoting work-life balance: Long working hours can negatively impact workers’ personal lives, reducing their time with family and friends, and limiting their ability to engage in other activities outside of work. Regulating working hours can help promote a healthy work-life balance.
  • Enhancing productivity: Research has shown that working long hours can lead to a decline in productivity and an increase in errors and accidents. By regulating working hours, employers can ensure that workers are well-rested and productive.
  • Protecting workers’ rights: Regulating working hours is an essential component of protecting workers’ rights. It helps to prevent exploitation and ensures that workers are compensated fairly for their time and labor.


  • May Day serves as a reminder of the struggle of workers for their rights. In this context, India must prioritize the welfare of its labour force and regulate working hours to improve their social welfare. The government must ensure that labour laws are not weakened, and trade unions must unite to ensure that the rights of workers are protected. Multinational corporations must be held accountable for skilling their workers and not exploiting the cheap labour offered by developing countries. Only then can India move towards inclusive and sustainable development.

Mains Question

Q. There is a growing trend of increasing working hours, especially in the garment and electronic industries, in the name of increasing productivity. Discuss the reasons and discuss why it is necessary to regulate working hours?

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your personal mentor for UPSC 2024 | Schedule your FREE session and get the Prelims prep Toolkit!

Also read:

Why May 1 is observed as Labour Day?

Get an IAS/IPS ranker as your 1: 1 personal mentor for UPSC 2024

Attend Now

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments


Join us across Social Media platforms.

💥Mentorship New Batch Launch
💥Mentorship New Batch Launch