Supporting the mining sector to recover from Covid-19 related slowdown is expected to preserve jobs and create new ones, according to Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers Union (REWU). In 2019 before the Covid-19 outbreak, the mining sector employed about 71,205 workers, an increase from 47, 727 workers in 2017, according to the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda (NISR). However, due to the slowdown in mining and mining processing operations as a result of the pandemic, the number fell by 19 per cent to 57, 379. The sector’s standing emerged as the world celebrated the International Labour Day on May 1. Industries in China and Europe had stopped operating or had significantly scaled down operations, which sent the minerals market tumbling consequently impacting Rwanda’s mineral exports. This was especially the case for tin, tungsten, and tantalum (3Ts) while mining operations were also affected in Rwanda laying off thousands of workers. “As government helps the sector to recover from Covid-19 effects, there is hope that the number of jobs in the mining and extraction sector could increase to 100,000 jobs in 2021. Following the lesson learnt from the pandemic effects, we urge workers to embrace the saving culture,” said Andre Mutsindashyaka, the Secretary-General of Rwanda extractive industry workers Union. While jobs in the mining and extraction sector are expected to increase this year, the union urges mining companies to embrace modern mining technologies to maximize productivity and improve workers wellbeing “We urge mining and extraction companies to provide written contracts to workers and safety insurance to ensure workers’ rights,” he said. Among workers’ rights that the union is advocating for also includes reduction of retirement age from 60 years old to 50 years old considering the physical strength required in the sector. “The Ministry of Labour should also fast-track the establishment of minimum wage seeing that lack of minimum wage particularly affects the welfare of workers in the mining sector. We have observed that some work but are not paid,” he said. Mining fund The union has also appealed for a ‘Mining Fund’ that could support investors in the mining sector. “The fund could help the investors to afford modern mining equipment to increase productivity and recover from the pandemic effects,” Mutsindashyaka said. At least 50 per cent of minerals are lost due to artisanal mining with expectations that with modern technology could curb the losses and propel the country towards the Government targets $1.5 billion in annual revenues from mineral exports by 2024. Covid-19 and the recovery fund Centrale des Syndicats des Travailleures du Rwanda (CESTRAR), an umbrella for trade unions in Rwanda has urged the government to ensure that the National Recovery Fund also supports workers affected by the Coronavirus pandemic in all sectors of the economy. “Many workers lost their jobs that would be feeding the families. The recovery fund should take this into account,” said African Biraboneye, the General Secretary of CESTRAR. He reiterated there is a need for fast-tracking the establishment of minimum wage for workers. “Lack of minimum wage leads to wages that are not in line with the current cost of living,” he said. He also urged employers to give written employment contracts to their employees adding that over 80 percent of workers in Rwanda are in the informal sector. “We need the transition from informal to formal economy. This could change workers’ lives and also boost the national economy through paying taxes and others,” he noted. He said that considering the Covid-19 effects on workers, public service representatives and Labour Ministry as well as Rwanda Social Security Board (RSSB) ought to carry out a study that could establish a ‘Job Loss and Unemployment Benefit Scheme’ that will be providing direct support to employees who lose their jobs. “The scheme could help workers who lose jobs in unusual circumstances as they ‘transition’ to secure new opportunities,” he said. He added that there is also a need of aligning pension benefits with Rwandan franc value in a certain period. The retirement age should also move to under 60 years old , he echoed.