PARIS • Workers around the world scaled back their traditional May Day demonstrations yesterday with coronavirus lockdowns forcing many to rally online instead, while a determined few hit the streets in face masks.
There were arrests in the Philippines and Turkey as dozens broke mandatory home confinement to hold public pickets.
In Hong Kong, activists used the occasion to protest against the erosion of the "one country, two systems" style of governance that has guaranteed broad freedoms for the city since its return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Riot police used pepper spray to disperse around 200 demonstrators who had gathered in a shopping mall for a "sing-along protest".
However, most gatherings on this unusual Labour Day went without incident.
With strict social distancing rules in most countries to curb the spread of the virus, many union leaders opted to delay public gatherings or move events online.
The traditional festival of the workers' movement carries extra significance this year after the Covid-19 pandemic sent the global economy into a historic tailspin, putting unprecedented numbers of people out of work.
"It is thanks to the labour we celebrate on this day that the nation perseveres," said President Emmanuel Macron of France, where workers celebrated the popular holiday by banging pots and singing on their balconies and taking part in online demonstrations.
"It is thanks to the work, the dedication of our caregivers, civil protection personnel, the armed forces... that we save so many lives every day," he said in a message to the nation.
In Turkey, some two dozen protesters, including a senior union leader, were arrested for taking part in a small march by mask-wearing workers in Istanbul in violation of lockdown measures, an Agence France-Presse photographer witnessed.
In the Philippines, police detained at least three people as small groups of protesters banged empty pots and held up placards demanding government aid and safe working conditions in defiance of a ban on public gatherings.
Some 23 million people - nearly a quarter of the country's population - face hunger due to "no work, no pay" provisions in their employment contracts, but face arrest for violating quarantine, Mr Jerome Adonis of the May First Movement labour movement said.
Indonesia's labour unions have called off street rallies, but organised an online protest against a pro-business Bill seen as aimed at simplifying layoffs.
The Confederation of Indonesian Trade Unions has also organised donation drives to buy face masks for factory workers and food for workers fired in the downturn sparked by the coronavirus.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS