A host of measures recently taken to curtail accidents in mines and quarries around the country are a source of optimism for a newly established trade union of workers in the mining sector.
In an interview on Wednesday, Andre Mutsindashyaka, the Secretary General of the Rwanda Extractive Industry Workers Union (Rewu), said among the raft of measures is for the union to have a representative at every mining site.
“We are now training our representatives on occupational safety and health,” Mutsindashyaka said.
In the past five months, he said, they have sensitised members in Gakenke, Burera, and Rulindo districts on the labour law.
“Before starting Rewu in September, mining accidents had become very common; but nowadays, a month can pass without any accident,” Eng. Mutsindashyaka said.
Currently, he said, around 500 companies and cooperatives in the extractive industry are registered with RDB. He said these companies employ about 30,000 workers.
“Registration makes it easier to advocate for workers’ rights and improve working conditions,” he said.
Last May, the death of four workers at a sand extraction valley site in Bigogwe Sector, Nyabihu District, was among the main accidents that reignited debate about the safety of hundreds of workers in quarries and mines across the country.
At the time, a hill on which the quartet was extracting sand caved in, burying them alive, in an unfortunate incident blamed on excavation activity and rains that left the ground soft and prone to mudslide.
At the time, Jean Marie Vianney Faida, the chairperson of the Rwanda Mining Association (RMA) in the Western Province, said quarries producing construction materials such as sand and gravel were not under the RMA, but added that they intend to bring them on board.
However, Evode Imena, the Minister of State in charge of Mining, said bringing quarries inside RMA was not practical as they vary in size.
The mining sector is the country’s second highest foreign exchange earner after tourism.
Eng. Mutsindashyaka says that as Rwanda’s mining prospects grow, mine workers’ safety measures should also be improved.
In 2013, the mining sector deployed five trained mine inspectors across the country to conduct inspections and acquire baseline information.
Imena on Wednesday told The New Times that; “We currently have six mines inspectors, plus counterparts in charge of standards, a director of inspection and regulation.”
The inspectors traverse the country training miners in requisite operational standards and best practices.