Thousands march on May Day, demand better working conditions

Malaysian workers stage a rally marking May Day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Hundreds of workers demand raise of basic salary and ending towards discrimination. The signs read "Employee rights, Stop gender discrimination, migrants worker rights, free media, control of price, promises and women works right." (AP Photo/Annice Lyn)
Cambodian workers march as they gather to mark May Day at Wat Phnom, center of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Cambodian workers march as they a gather to mark May Day near Wat Phnom, center of Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Myanmar labors holding placards read, "to amend the law of leaves and holidays immediately, to appear the labor court," shout slogans during a marching ceremony Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar. Hundreds most of factory workers marched Wednesday to mark International Workers' Day asked for to get their labor rights. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)
Protesters, mostly workers, shout slogans as they gather for a rally prior to marching towards the Presidential Palace in Manila to pay tribute to workers in celebration of International Labor Day Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in the Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Myanmar workers shout slogan during a marching ceremony Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar. Hundreds most of factory workers marched Wednesday to mark International Workers' Day asked for to get their labor rights. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Thousands of trade union members and activists are marking May Day by marching through Asia's capitals and demanding better working conditions and expanding labor rights. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Myanmar workers holding a placard read, "Government to sign 98 facts of ILO law," shout slogans during a marching ceremony Wednesday, May 1, 2019, in Yangon, Myanmar. Hundreds most of factory workers marched Wednesday to mark International Workers' Day asked for to get their labor rights. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia, Rhona Smith delivers a speech to mark May Day at Tonle Sap river bank in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Protesters, mostly workers, gather for a rally prior to marching towards the Presidential Palace in Manila to pay tribute to workers in celebration of International Labor Day Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in the Philippines. (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Malaysian workers stage a rally marking May Day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Hundreds of workers demand raise of basic salary and ending towards discrimination. The signs read "Raise of salary, stop discrimination," and " Labor Day, 25 years of struggle." (AP Photo/Annice Lyn)
U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Cambodia Rhona Smith, center, delivers a speech as Ath Thun, right, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers' Democratic Union, during a gathering marking the May Day at Tonle Sap river bank, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Some hundreds of workers staged a rally, demanding a better working condition. (AP Photo/Heng Sinith)
Malaysian workers stage a rally marking May Day in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Hundreds of workers demand raise of basic salary and ending towards discrimination. (AP Photo/Annice Lyn)
Workers shout slogans during a May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Thousands of workers attended the rally urging the government to raise minimum wages, ban outsourcing practices, provide free health care and improve working condition for workers in the country. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Thousands of workers march towards the Presidential Palace in Manila to pay tribute to workers in celebration of International Labor Day Wednesday, May 1, 2019 in the Philippines. The workers scored President Rodrigo Duterte allegedly for reneging in his campaign promise three years ago to end temporary hiring known as "contractualization" or "ENDO (End of Contract)". (AP Photo/Bullit Marquez)
Workers wear masks during a May Day rally in Jakarta, Indonesia, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Thousands of workers attended the rally urging the government to raise minimum wages, ban outsourcing practices, provide free health care and improve working condition for workers in the country. (AP Photo/Achmad Ibrahim)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions hold up their banners during a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Thousands of trade union members and activists are marking May Day by marching through Asia's capitals and demanding better working conditions and expanding labor rights. The signs read "Let's win the wage struggle." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions stage a May Day rally in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, May 1, 2019. Thousands of trade union members and activists are marking May Day by marching through Asia's capitals and demanding better working conditions and expanding labor rights. The sign reads "Guarantee of Union." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

SEOUL, South Korea — Thousands of trade union members and activists were marking May Day on Wednesday by marching through Asia's capitals and demanding better working conditions and expanding labor rights.

A major South Korean umbrella trade union also issued a joint statement with a North Korean workers' organization calling for the Koreas to push ahead with engagement commitments made during a series of inter-Korean summits last year. Many of the plans agreed to between the Koreas, including joint economic projects, have been held back by a lack of progress in nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang.

May Day rallies were also being held in other parts of Asia, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Taiwan, Cambodia and Myanmar. Other parts of the world were set to have rallies as well.

In Sri Lanka, major political parties called off traditional May Day rallies due to security concerns following the Easter bombings that killed 253 people and were claimed by militants linked to the Islamic State group.

French authorities announced tight security measures for May Day demonstrations, with the interior minister saying there was a risk that "radical activists" could join anti-government yellow vest protesters and union workers in the streets of Paris and across the country. More than 7,400 police will be deployed, aided by drones to give them an overview of the protests and a quicker way to head off potential violence.

Wearing headbands and swinging their fists, the protesters in Seoul rallied in streets near City Hall, marching under banners denouncing deteriorating working conditions and calling for equal treatment and pay for non-regular workers.

The protesters also called for the government to ratify key International Labor Organization conventions that would strengthen South Korean workers' rights for organization and collective bargaining, and take firmer steps toward reforming "chaebol," or huge family-owned conglomerates that dominate South Korea's economy and are often accused of corruption and monopolistic behaviors. South Korean laws ban government employees and laid-off workers from forming or joining labor unions.

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, which organized the protests and issued the joint statement with the North Korean organization, said more than 27,000 demonstrators turned out for Wednesday's marches in Seoul, which proceeded peacefully with no immediate reports of injuries or major clashes. Police didn't immediately provide a crowd estimate. May Day rallies were also held in other major South Korean cities, including Busan, Gwangju and Daejeon.

Liberal President Moon Jae-in, who won office in May 2017 following the ouster of his conservative predecessor over a corruption scandal, had pushed a labor-friendly agenda that promised to expand workers' rights, reduce the country's notoriously long working hours and address the problems of inequality by elevating minimum wages and reining in the excesses of chaebol.

However, critics say a decaying job market and bad economy, which unexpectedly shrank 0.3% during the last quarter due to sluggish investment, has softened the government's approach on labor rights and corporate reform.

In Bangladesh, hundreds of garment workers and members of labor organizations rallied in Dhaka, the capital, to demand better working conditions and higher wages.

Nazma Akter, president of one of Bangladesh's largest unions, said female garment workers were also demanding six months of maternity leave and protection against sexual abuse and violence in the workplace.

Bangladesh has thousands of garment factories employing millions of workers, and the industry generates around $30 billion in exports a year.

Construction workers, bus drivers, freelancers and domestic workers from the Philippines and Indonesia joined a Labor Day march through central Hong Kong. The protesters marched from Victoria Park to the main government offices, some carrying banners reading "Maxed Out!"

The Hong Kong Confederation of Trade Unions, which organized the march, is demanding a maximum standard work week of 44 hours and an hourly minimum wage of at least 54.7 Hong Kong dollars ($7). Construction workers called for legislation to ensure work safety, while freelance workers are seeking basic labor protections such as the right to recover unpaid wages.

Thousands of low-paid workers took to the streets in Indonesia to demand higher wages, better benefits and improved working conditions in Southeast Asia's largest economy. Laborers in Jakarta, the capital, gathered at national monuments and other places, shouting their demands.

"We demand the rights of workers and their families," said Joko Harianto, head of the national trade union. "People think things are good, but actually these rights are very difficult to obtain."

In Taiwan, several thousand workers were marching through the streets of Taipei, the capital, to demand better working conditions. They carried banners and flags and chanted for more days off and higher overtime pay.

Many wore baseball caps and colorful clear plastic ponchos over their clothes, though a light rain ended as the march got underway. Taiwan's official Central News Agency said 6,000 people joined the march.

In the Philippines, thousands of workers and labor activists marched near the Malacanang presidential palace in Manila. They demanded that the government of President Rodrigo Duterte address labor issues including a minimum wage increase and the end of contractualization for many workers.

Police said about 5,000 people joined the march, which comes just over a week before senatorial elections are held in the country. One labor group said its members would not vote for any candidate endorsed by Duterte and burned an effigy of Duterte.

___

Associated Press journalists Iya Forbes in Manila, Philippines, Johnson Lai in Taipei, Taiwan, Andi Jatmiko in Jakarta, Indonesia, Al-emrun Garjon in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and Katie Tam in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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