Workers around the world stage May Day protests

Workers across Asia take to the streets on May Day to fight for their rights and demand better pay.
South Koreans protesting against labour reforms pushed by the government at a rally in front of City Hall in Seoul yesterday.
South Koreans protesting against labour reforms pushed by the government at a rally in front of City Hall in Seoul yesterday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

SEOUL • Fears of eroding workers' rights sparked May Day protests across the globe from Seoul to Paris yesterday.

Tens of thousands of South Koreans protested against labour reforms pushed by the government, and called for a higher minimum wage. Labour activists say a Bill being pushed by President Park Geun Hye and her conservative Saenuri Party will make it easier for companies to sack workers.

"Let's fight together against the evil Bill!" activists and unionised workers chanted in unison during a protest in Seoul Plaza in front of City Hall yesterday. About 30,000 workers took part, said the Federation of Korean Trade Unions.

The protesters waved banners and chanted: "Fight against Park's administration that suppresses labour rights!" Many also waved giant flags demanding "Minimum wage of 10,000 won!" The current rate is 6,030 won (S$7.10) per hour.

South Korea has some of the world's longest working hours at 2,124 a year, far higher than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average of 1,770 hours.

The Park administration argues that its reform plan would introduce flexibility to a rigid labour market by making it easier for businesses to hire as well as to fire.

Elsewhere in the region, about 300 protesters in Kuala Lumpur called for the minimum wage to be raised from RM900 (S$308) a month to RM1,500. The government said last year that the minimum wage in Peninsular Malaysia will go up to RM1,000 from July 1.

In Phnom Penh, about 1,000 Cambodian workers, mostly from the garment and footwear industry, marched to the National Assembly with a petition calling for the government to raise their minimum wage to US$207 (S$280) per month, from US$140. Cambodia's garment and footwear industry is its largest foreign currency earner.

France was braced for violence after protests against planned labour reforms this week descended into chaos, with scenes of burning cars and stone-throwing protesters who injured dozens of policemen in Paris. While the government hopes the reforms will reduce unemployment, critics believe they will make it easier to lay off people in lean times.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, THE STAR/ ASIA NEWS NETWORK, XINHUA

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 02, 2016, with the headline 'Workers around the world stage May Day protests'. Print Edition | Subscribe