worker's day

Worker’s Day in South Africa: Is Monday a public holiday?

1 May 2021 - 08:29

This year’s Worker’s Day fell on a weekend. Does that mean Monday is a public holiday?

Written by Andile Sicetsha

International Worker’s Day is, perhaps, the only time in the year the world’s working class is heralded for its crucial contributions in keeping this world spinning on its axis.

Worker’s Day: Why the world celebrates this day

The recognition of labour as something to be commemorated is, believe it or not, linked to the eight-hour workday model which, in one way or another, we have Henry Ford to thank.

At a time when the United States’ labour market was averaging 10-hour daily shifts for employees, Ford implemented an eight-hour work schedule where his employees would not exceed a minute past 40 hours clocked per week.

This disruptive move brought about — partly due to Ford’s influence — a greater discussion in the industrial sector that culminated in 1886’s Haymarket affair, where a peaceful labour picket in Chicago, in support of the eight-hour model, was ruptured by a bombing.

That defiant response to this ‘unconventional’ model was the catalyst that brought the international labour movement together, to champion the working class and find new ways to strengthen equitable labour policies.

Is Monday a public holiday in South Africa?

In South Africa, Worker’s Day recognises the country’s trade unions and other labour movements. Quite often, rallies are held by unions deeply linked to politics.

Due to the gloomy state of our labour market, ‘May Day’ is often a stark reminder of the plight faced by millions who struggle, on a daily basis, to access employment opportunities.

South Africa still has the highest unemployment rate in the world with more than 30% of the population not active in the labour market. The statistic looks grimmer for youth unemployment, which sits above 40% for those eligible to work.

In all this doom and gloom, the overarching question for this year’s Worker’s Day is — if this year’s holiday fell on a Saturday, does it mean that we are not working on Monday?

Well, according to the Public Holidays Act, the answer is bubble-bursting, “no!”

Unfortunately, because Worker’s Day fell on a Saturday in 2021, the labour market is, by law, obliged to restart on Monday. If, for instance, the public holiday fell on a Sunday, then the next day would be recognised as an extension to Sunday’s observance.

In short, Monday holidays only occur if the day of observance was recognised the day before.