Rwandans today join the rest of the world in marking the International Labour Day with a pledge to work harder and better for self-reliance.
Reflections on this Day have been set around a national theme, “Work for Self- Reliance” (Kora Wigire) to increase awareness about the value of employment and job creation.
The government designed this year’s theme out of an ongoing drive to involve as many Rwandans as possible in job creation and employment initiatives as they work to achieve the government-led ambition of turning Rwanda into a middle income country by the year 2020.
The Minister for Public Service and Labour, Anastase Murekezi, who announced a Rwf12-billion new National Employment Programme (NEP) on Monday, described the “Work for Self-Reliance” theme as thought-provoking, because it is a clear call for economic independence.
“Self-reliance is what we all need to live a dignified life,” he said in a speech on Monday as he launched the NEP at a two-day national labour forum.
In line with Rwanda’s second Economic Development and Poverty Reduction Strategy (EDPRS2), which is a Rwf10-trillion second medium-term strategy toward attainment the long-term vision for the country by the year 2020, Rwanda has planned to create 200,000 off-farm jobs every year.
It is hoped to help reduce unemployment, which currently stands at 3.4 per cent in the country and remains tougher in urban areas of the country at 7.7 per cent.
The youth constitute about 67 per cent of all unemployed people aged 16-34 years.
With the plan that the country’s economy will grow to an average 11.5 per cent during EDPRS2 implementation, calls for Rwandans to change their attitudes towards work have grown stronger along with planning and setting up the economic targets.
Built by the hands of Rwandans
In words that were quoted by Minister Murekezi in his speech at the launch of NEP on Monday, President Paul Kagame said Rwandans have to be self-reliant through hard and innovative work.
The President previously said that “Rwanda will be built by the hands of its citizens” and called for working together to achieve the country’s aspirations.
“We know already how far we can go when we work together. Let us continue to uphold the value of work because it goes hand in hand with dignifying ourselves and our country,” the President said on a past Labour Day occasion.
The words remain relevant today, analysts and experts say, as Rwandans across the country take a day off to reflect on the value of labour.
Eric Manzi, the secretary-general of the biggest confederation of trade unions in Rwanda (Cestrar), told The New Times on Tuesday that the theme for Labour Day today is a renewed call for workers to understand the value of their services.
“There is no work without value. Some Rwandans who complain that their work is not decent enough should start looking at what they do as precious because it’s a contribution to the country and towards improving their lives. That’s what both workers and employees need to understand,” he said.
Dominique Bicamumpaka, the president of another major workers’ union in the country, the Congress of Labour and Workers Brotherhood (Cotraf), agrees that self-reliance is a timely topic for Rwandans.
“It’s an important message, especially for the youth. They need to understand that they are responsible for their own survival,” he said.
Law on minimum wage
Manzi said one of the important things to note today is the improved understanding of rights among more workers in the country.
He said the number of complaints about violated labour rights might be on the rise in the country but not necessarily as a bad sign because the increased figures for complaints mean that more people have understood their rights at work and are standing up to fight for them.
“Our assessments in 2013 at our office and in six districts show that labour related complaints and questions have increased in comparison to three previous years,” Manzi said.
Manzi also called for increased awareness about the need for workers to invest in pension schemes in order to avoid being a burden for the country when they retire.
The activist also expressed hope that the country will have a new law on minimum wage by the end of the year, which will replace the current legislation on minimum wage that are no longer up-to-date.
The 1974 Labour Law that set the minimum wage at Rwf100 per day is still in force, essentially making it possible for some workers to sometimes earn as low as Rwf300 per day, trade unions say.