Workers in several upcountry towns last Friday used the International Labour Day celebrations to demand for respect of their rights at places of work and advocate for a reduction in working hours.
The government has proposed that working hours should be increased from 40 to 45 hours a week.
This year’s national Labour Day on May 1 was marked with emphasis on productive work which is based on dialogue between employer and employee leading to development.
During the celebrations, exemplary business persons were rewarded with cash prizes and certificates of recognition.
The celebrations were highlighted by marches during which workers showcased the products of their hard work.
In Ruhango District, Gaspard Mpakanyi, an official of the workers umbrella body (CESTRAR), pointed out that the government has done a lot to promote workers’ rights in the country, but more needs to be done.
“There is need to increase salaries of most civil servants, especially after increasing working hours from 40 to 45 hours a week,” he said.
Mpakanyi, added that there is need to improve workers’ social welfare, security, education and capacity building training sessions.
CESTRAR says some employees in the district are underpaid, lack social insurance, have no job security, salaries and packages for laid off workers are delayed.
However, the Mayor, Celestin Twagirumukiza, urged workers to be pro-active in service provision at their work stations.
He attributed salary delays to financial constraints.
Three local enterprises were recognised for their role in promoting the service sector, job creation, and outstanding creativity in the district.
Local leaders also used the occasion to caution residents against Genocide ideology, which they said cost the country the necessary labour force.
In Karongi District, officials of CESTRAR said the government should reduce working hours instead of increasing them.
“Long working hours does not mean providing quality results because one can work for fewer hours and ensure much productivity,’ the CESTRAR statement reads in part.
However, the Mayor, Bernard Kayumba, objected to the proposal, saying long working hours are necessary considering the country’s past and its current vision.
“You all know where our country has come from and where we are today, this is a result of working hard and we still need to put more efforts in achieving a lot beyond what we have achieved so far. So, I don’t agree with the workers’ request to reduce on working hours,’ he said, addressing a rally at Gatwaro stadium in Bwishyura Sector.
Workers also appealed for an increment in teachers’s remunerations, saying their salaries do not match their services.
In response, Kayumba said the government has tried to improve teacher’s welfare, noting that solving all teachers’ woes will be a gradual process.
‘The government has worked well to support teachers by setting up your own bank (UMWALIMU SSACCO) that will help you secure loans. You should wait patiently since the government is supportive of solving your problems,’ he said.
In Musanze District, scores of workers from different institutions, farmers’ cooperatives, hotels and associations turned up for the event.
Farmers from a farmer’s cooperative, Urugaga Imbaraga exhibited the products of modern farming.
Mayor, Celestin Kalabayinga stressed the need to accord work more time due to the country’s challenges.
“We should work for more hours now in order to deal with the current poverty, then we can begin working for less hours after raising our standards,’’ Kalabayinga said, warning CESTRAR against creating a rift between workers and employers.
Earlier, Bonaventure Niyitegeka, a worker’s representative in the area, also advised workers to work with ambition, saying they should sleep late and wake up early.
“Small minds talk about people, big minds discuss events while great ones think about development,’’ Niyitegeka said.
Ishema Hotel, Cyuve Sector and DERN, a development organisation were awarded certificates of merit and a cheque of Rwf100,000 each for their exceptional good service delivery.
Meanwhile, in Huye District, Justice Minister and Attorney General, Tharsis Karugarama, who was the chief guest, called upon residents to develop a competitive sprit if they are to benefit from regional blocs like the East African Community (EAC).
He noted that the Labour Protocol, which is soon to be signed in the East African Community, will mean free movement of labour in the region.
He said: “You will have to compete with the best from the region for jobs and business opportunities. This calls for change of attitude if you are to compete locally and regionally.”
The Minister, called on workers to respect the work they do and always make right choices if they are to engage in gainful employment.
“You need to be transparent in what you do. You should develop a culture of excellence and always aim at quality work and proper service delivery.”
Karugarama castigated people who look down on jobs especially in the informal sector and opt for a futile search for ‘white collar’ jobs.
The Minister called for dialogue as a means to resolving conflicts that arise at work places, reminding workers and workers’ representatives to always voice their grievances and not wait to do so on Labour Day.
He also called upon residents to be self reliant, be hopeful and build on the previous successes the country has registered over the years.
Fabien Mutaganda, the workers representative called for capacity building. He called for on job training for workers, and improved conditions of work especially for expectant mothers.
The workers’ representative castigated dubious contractors who rip off people they employ especially at construction sites.
Mutaganda cited Eugene Ruhezamacumu, as one of those who have previously failed to pay workers’ wages to a tune of Rwf50million.
Ruhezamacumu employed over 300 workers who constructed hostels for students of the National University of Rwanda.
Labour Day celebrations in the district were characterised by a procession of workers both from the private and public sector and students from different educational institutions.
In Gicumbi District, Minister of Cabinet Affairs, Dr. Charles Murigande called upon workers in the public and private sector to work with dedication in order to accelerate economic development.
“Economic development does not occur accidentally, it is tirelessly worked for,” Murigande said at Gicumbi stadium.
He cited Singapore and South Korea, as some of the poor countries whose economies rose to advanced levels because of their citizens’ hard work.
The Minister further called upon those engaged in modern agriculture and livestock farming to increase their production in order to produce enough for family consumption and surpluses for sale.
He advised civil servants and those in private companies to perform their duties effectively, by serving people who seek their services without discrimination.
Patricie Mukandayobotse, of CESTRAR, called upon employers to respect workers rights to social security and health insurance.
She cited the Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS), which provides humanitarian services at Gihembe refugee camp, as one of the organisations which has persistently failed to respect workers rights.
“JRS has always intimidated employees who demand their rights, while those employees who attempt to report the matter to the workers’ union (CESTRAR) or district Labour office are fired,” said Mukandayobotse.
Byumba Catholic Diocese, Faustin Twahirwa Enterprises and Rubaya Vision 2020 Sector are among those who were awarded certificates of merit and prizes from the Ministry of Labour for respecting workers’ rights and for their exemplary work.
Best performing agricultural and livestock farmers from each Sector were also awarded certificates of merit by the district.
Mayor Bonane Nyangezi, attributed a high output in agriculture and livestock farming in the area to efforts of mobilisers who sensitise residents in their localities to wake up early for work.
“Work mobilisers have contributed a lot in sensitising residents to work hard in order to eradicate poverty. This is a new innovation at the district that should be emulated by other parts of the country,” he said.
BY DANIEL SABIITI, DAN NGABONZIZA, BONNY MUKOMBOZI, PAUL NTAMBARA AND AMBROSE GAHENE