Despite the mining sector being one of the top foreign exchange revenue earners for Rwanda,mine workers have complained about poor working conditions and low wages.
Through their trade union, Rwanda Extractive Workers Union, miners say that their employers pay them depending on the volumes of minerals they extract.
This means that if a miner doesn’t extract any minerals, they don’t get paid despite spending long hours inside the tunnels digging up the soils, which does not only affect their welfare but also puts their lives in danger.
They raised their grievance during the celebration of the World Day of Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) in Rulindo District last week.
“Mining is special work given its nature, it requires more energy. But many of them (artisan miners) spend days without touching money because they get paid depending on the (volume of) minerals they have extracted,” said André Mutsindashyaka, the president of Rwanda Extractive workers Union.
They appealed to responsible institutions to intervene and fix their problems.
Mining sector employs an estimated 80,000 workers, of whom 62,000 are casual labourers.
The World Day of Occupational Safety and Health serves as an opportunity to raise awareness on the promotion of occupational safety and health on particular issues that are still pertinent to the country, according to the officials.
Mutsindashyaka noted the nature of the miners’ job does not favour casual miners but rather the owners of the mines and the Government.
“Sometimes you dig to reach the mineral base and you end up not getting there, sometimes it takes a week to get them and imagine spending a week without getting paid, this is a serious concern,” he said, appealing for the Government to intervene.
“Imagine a casual worker who spend a week without any payment, how do they survive, how do they manage to educate their children and take care of them in different ways.”
Such issues, he said, can be partly addressed by introducing a minimum wage.
One of the casual labourers at Euro Trade International Ltd said that: “Miners are not given the value they deserve, expecting money because you have extracted minerals is unfair and owners of the mines seem to ignore our rights.”
“We need advocacy so that this ends, we want the Government to work with mining companies to fix a certain amount of money we can be paid monthly,” he said.
Francis Gatare, the Chief Executive Officer of Rwanda Mines, Petroleum and Gas Board, promised to fix the problems that artisan miners are grappling with.
“The way mining profession is done currently is based on the contracts miners sign with mining companies where miners get paid on the basis of their productivity on a daily basis and the market price, this varies depending on the nature of the minerals and the produce,” he said.
He said that while mining companies still struggle to do business and use a small investment, there is hope that things will improve.
“We keep engaging companies to first have a fixed amount of money for miners even when there is no produce and pay them at a good and harmonised rate. Miners have not been ignored and we are working with the miners association and mining companies to ensure that miners are well paid,” he added.
Rwanda exported minerals worth $350 million last year and the country’s export earnings from minerals are projected to reach $800 million in the 2019/2020, according to official projections.
The Government targets $1.5 billion in annual revenues from mineral exports by 2024.