Trade unions push for higher minimum wage
Trade unions are demanding that the daily minimum wage be fixed at Rwf 1,500, way above the current Rwf100 under a 1974 law still in force.
Speaking to The New Times, officials from two main trade unions operating in the country said the amount was determined following a survey carried out last year.
The survey analysed the current cost of living in different parts of the country, said the leaders of both the Central Trade Union of Workers of Rwanda (CESTRAR) and the Labour Congress and the Brotherhood-Rwanda (COTRAF).
“A casual worker at the village level should not get a daily wage below Rwf1 ,500, while the lowest paid employee in Kigali should earn a minimum wage of Rwf2,000 due to the higher cost of living,” the Secretary General of CESTRAR, Eric Manzi, said.
The development adds to growing demands by workers, particularly those in the informal sector, for better working conditions with most decrying low salaries.
A typical example of the unfairness in the wage structures, according to the unions, is the issue of tea pickers, who allegedly earn as little as Rwf300 a day.
Manzi said the survey mainly targeted the private sector which is the source of most complaints, especially in the construction and agriculture sectors.
“Delays in effecting the new minimum wage law is severely affecting employees, especially in the private sector... we request the government to embark on resolving the issue,” urged Manzi.
The country still applies the 1974 labour law which sets the daily mimimum wage at Rwf100.
According to COTRAF, the lowest paid employee should earn a minimum of Rwf160, 000 a month.
The unions claim there are many conflicts between employers and employees due to salary imbalances.
Francois Ntakiyimana, the General Secretary of COTRAF, pointed out that several casual labourers cannot cater for their children’s education.
“We have many complaints, especially from factories where many employees are paid just Rwf10,000 per month, an issue that the Ministry of Public Service and Labour should address as soon as possible,” Ntakiyimana said.
Last year, more than 500 workers at a Kigali-based textile firm, UTEXRWA, went on strike to protest poor pay and working conditions.
“We need a new minimum wage structure, the condition is appalling for workers,” he said.
He said insurance companies also apply the 1974 minimum wage labour law.
However, according to the unions, there are sectors that need more careful scrutiny before coming up with a conclusive minimum wage, depending on the circumstances.
A case in point is domestic workers whose basic needs including accommodation, meals and healthcare are, in most cases, met by their employers.
“This is a special case we need to critically examine; the previous study mainly focused on casual labourers in construction projects, tea pickers and those working in factories, whom we think are the most affected,” said Ntakiyimana.
However, the Director General of Labour and Employment in the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, Anne Mugabo, insisted that her ministry could not incorporate the trade unions’ findings to set a minimum wage.
“To determine the minimum wage, the price index of goods has to be looked at, the GDP of the country, the production capacity of several industries as well as many other factors,” Mugabo underscored.
She, however, acknowledged the need for a new minimum wage structure, attributing the delays to the fact that, in the past, the ministry had been let own by private consultants hired to examine the issue.
The ministry has previously hired a Tanzanian based consultancy firm, Credit and Risk Solutions Bureau, to carry out a study in 519 institutions across the country.
Mugabo noted that they are currently in contact with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) to assist the ministry carry out a study on the minimum wage structure. The study will also involve a salary structure for foreign investors.
The ministry also plans to establish a salary index for every sector, which will be based upon to come up with a general minimum wage.
She said a draft minimum wage structure reflecting the views of local companies would be available by the end of the year.
Contact email: fred.ndoli[at]newtimes.co.rw