Govt, trade union in new bid to resolve longstanding feud

REG CEO Ron Weiss speaks during a past news conference. File.

SYPELGAZ, a trade union for energy, water and sanitation, says that despite the delays in resolving the case involving former employees of the energy and utility agency, EWSA, something constructive could happen after a meeting was held last week to resolve issues.

The union petitioned court after 600 employee of EWSA, which has since been split into two companies – the Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC) – were dismissed from work in 2015.

In May this year, the parties discussed a proposal by the Ministry of Infrastructure to settle the matter amicably. What was agreed included suspending filed lawsuits during the negotiation period to focus on reaching an amicable solution.

The trade union accuses the Ministry of Infrastructure and its affiliated agencies for dragging their feet and lacking of commitment to resolve the issue as agreed during the May meeting in which parties resolved to conclude negotiations within two months.

After last week’s (Wednesday) meeting, which was chaired by Ron Weiss, the CEO of REG, Jordi-Michel Musoni, the president of SYPELGAZ, said they are “hopeful”.

“We are happy that there is at least this historic step but the commitment of two months is long overdue because of some complications that should not be. Workers are not used to seeing, in Rwanda, a public figure promising something publicly and fail to honour,” he said.

Last year, SYPELGAZ petitioned court over the alleged illegal dismissal of more than 600 former employees having exhausted other avenues to settle the matter amicably.

The union highlights unaddressed cases of alleged lack of respect of workers’ rights in the former Energy, Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA).

According to Musoni, REG and WASAC “seem not ready to take over EWSA’s liabilities.

“According to him (Ron Weiss) these are brand new institutions which cannot inherit those problems, but in my earlier discussions with the MININFRA PS, he said that they are fully responsible for whatever acts they made as REG and WASAC. They are the ones who dismissed workers without giving them what they are supposed to give,” he said.

He added; “Today [Wednesday] we agreed that they are going to sample some workers and make calculations, then on Tuesday we meet again for further discussion.”

When asked about the way forward on the matter and why the case seems to be taking so long, Weiss referred this reporter to his organisation’s Public Relations Officer.

Prosper Mubera, the Public Relations Officer of REG, said: “I think this is a good question to put to the ministry since the decision to separate water and energy was a government decision.”

The immediate former Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Infrastructure, Christian Rwakunda, said he was optimistic a solution will be found as soon as possible.

“We are still in discussions and they aren’t yet over. But when they eventually come to an end, the agreed amounts of money will be paid. We are trying to have an out of court settlement,” he said.

Rwakunda has since been replaced by 28-year-old Patricia Uwase, who was appointed by Cabinet on Friday.

He added; “Our expectation is that all this is done and ends as soon as possible.”

In court we are sure to win

SYPELGAZ is, among other things, seeking compensation for illegal dismissal and regularisation of salary in line with the 2013 Prime Minister’s Order on public sector salary structure.

Musoni said that even though the institutions in question are willing to adjust, among others, the terminal benefits given to workers based on the new salary structure of 2013, “they don’t want to pay adjustment of bonuses given to workers in years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 and payment of horizontal promotion for the period from July 2014-2015.”

He stressed that, among others, SYPELGAZ wants REG and WASAC to pay those dues to workers “and if not, we continue filing cases in court and we are sure to win because we have jurisprudence.”

According to Musoni, when the ministryinvited the aggrieved workers in the May 23 meeting at Hilltop Hotel, the “workers were very happy especially of the promise made” by the PS, the CEO of REG and others “to close this issue within two months.”

“But now they did not honour this promise and continued to delay negotiations.”

Musoni said more than 100 cases were filed in courts of law and in all cases, workers won and more will be filed soon.

What they are negotiating is related to salary benefits that the affected workers should have received since 2013.

Musoni says such was only granted to senior EWSA managers and not the rest of the staff.

“What we claim also applies for both workers who were laid off in the 2015 EWSA reform and those who remained with either REG or WASAC.”

Lately, Musoni said, the case they are handling no longer deals with only more than 600 dismissed workers as it now “relates to all former EWSA workers” numbering around 2,000.

READ ALSO: Trade unions petition courts over dismissal of former EWSA employees

                  Trade union petitions Senate over former REG, WASAC employees' dismissal Out of court settlement

editorial@newtimes.co.rw