1st May: Employees’ Demands & Labor Market Problems [Archives:2001/18/Business & Economy]

April 30 2001

The observance of International Labor Day is not to celebrate their misery and sufferings. Rather, it is an occasion to reflect on their conditions the protect of their rights from greedy and self-centered employers. In the International Socialist Conference held in Paris on July 1889, the pioneer of socialism Raymoon Lavini called upon the participants to support a proposal to recognize the 1st of May as day to press for reducing working hours.
Urgent Demands of workers:
Since the 1st of May 1890, there has been extensive reports on and ever-increasing demands for improving workers’ conditions, increasing their wages, ensuring guarantees necessary for them to earn a living and providing legal protection for those who are vulnerable to injuries or risks in their work. On that day, Europe and USA witnessed massive demonstrations and strikes, which made the industrialized countries take logistic measures and pass laws to ensure the rights of workers. This included decreased working hours, ensuring health care and social guarantees, creating new job opportunities for the unemployed, etc.
In developing countries, Yemen included, syndicate unions for workers have harnessed activities of workers’ movements. Despite governments’ sanction celebrating the day, syndicates seem to have a very frail impact on government policies. Legislation, on the other hand, restricts strikes and some do not ratify freedom to the syndicate’s work.
Labor Forces and Labor Market:
Celebrating the 1st of May could be an opportunity to study problems of labor forces in the labor market, especially as the constitutional and legal legislation endorse the establishment of a workers syndicate framework to organize relations between workers and working sources.
Since the declaration of the unity on May 22 1990, syndicate frameworks were joined into one framework called the “Workers Public Union”. This framework was, until 1994, unable to realize its objectives, though some minor achievements were made including endorsing workers’ right to go on peaceful strikes to have decent wages. Of course, political confrontations between the ruling parties: the GPC and YSP, has weakened the syndicate work to address problems of the labor forces as it worsened unemployment.
Though, syndicates union remained unified after the YSP lost power, the union became, as viewed by opposition parties, affiliated to the ruling party. It did not achieve any breakthrough for workers except for publishing flabby reports claiming rights of some workers in establishments and companies. Hence, conditions of the labor force in the labor market worsened not because of the weakness of the syndicate activity but for other reasons as well. These reasons can be stated as follows:
1- Returning more than 1 million workers from the Gulf countries, which made Yemen lose $1 million annually, as revenues from immigrants’ transfers.
2- Slow economic growth. Its average during 90-95 reached 3.2% leading to the slashing of the individual income.
3- High population growth from 15,8 million in 1994 to 18 million in 2000, besides the internal immigration from countryside to towns.
4- High rate of economic support reached 376.94% in the family survey of 1998. That is, every member in the labor force was found supporting four individuals beside himself.
5- The government carrying out economic reforms within the privatization program led to laying off many employees in establishments being privatized.
All these factors have led to increase the labor force by 1 million by 2000 and with 5.2% as an annual rate. Studies also show that 3,3 million individuals are working in the different economic sectors. Official statistics also reveal that there are 69% of the labor force working in the agricultural sector, 8% in the industrial and private sectors while 10,5% in the civil service.
Employees’ Conditions in the Labor Market:
In the 1970s-80s Yemeni employees moved in great numbers towards the Gulf countries. They were with no qualifications and used to work manual handicrafts. Conditions of the Yemeni employment now are not in position to travel abroad as labor markets in the Gulf countries require highly qualified and professional talents.
Studies show that there is 5,500,000 illiterate population who are from ten years and more of age. They are included in the labor force of whom 29,8% male and 70,2% female.
As things stand now, there are not enough job opportunities in towns to contain the unemployment surplus coming from the countryside. Studies of the WB indicate that unemployment rate has reached to 35% of the overall labor force. What makes things worse is the backward social security means in terms of limited and fragile assistance by the government social security network giving rise to the child labor.
Proper Planning is Urgent:
Our celebration of the ILD on 1st May without proposing solutions to all the problems hanging on labor market and ensuring free syndicate work to protect rights, is meaningless.
In conclusion, the trend of proper planning to address employees conditions, improve labor circumstances is the ideal solution on condition that national policies are to be taken to curb the high unemployment rate. Immigrating Yemeni employees is not the solution as this would be a temporary unpracticed remedy.