Every worker, woman or man, is striving to find meaningful decent work that gives her/him pride and dignity in parallel to good working conditions including a decent living wage, health coverage, and an old age pension.
Today, at Labour Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the significant contribution that every worker is making towards building a bright future for Rwanda.
The commemoration of Labour Day was initially instituted in the United States soon after the massacre of striking workers by the army and police specifically in industrial Chicago in 1894. The cause of the strike was an attempt to lower wages. Following the massacre, even those who had sided with the federal US government in its effort to end the strike, subsequently favoured the creation of a national holiday to commemorate the event.
The main acknowledgement thereafter was that strikes should be avoided, and labour relations are better handled through social dialogue and consensus building between the different interests of workers and employers. It was also an acknowledgement that sharing the dividends of growth creates win-win conditions for workers and employers alike in addition to contributing to the prosperity of the country in general. In a nutshell: decent work works for all.
So let us recognise today the centrality of sound labour relations for inclusive economic growth and social peace for Rwanda. Indeed, the Government, the labour unions and the employers organisations are working together to the attainment of decent work for all through improved labour market governance. This includes the appropriate laws, policies and institutions which determine and influence the demand and supply of labour and fair working conditions and which comply to international labour standards.
While there is a lot to celebrate today some challenges remain. For several years now Rwanda has been experiencing exceptional economic growth rates, even above the sub Saharan Africa average. Yet, not enough formal jobs have been created to absorb the new entrants and informality remains rampant rendering job quality as low.
Let us not forget, however that achieving economic growth is becoming increasingly challenging in today’s world where production is globalised while labor markets remain localised. Reflecting on Labor Day therefore is a moment to ensure the extent to which job creation and decent work is central to all economic policies.
This is why Sustainable Development Goal (SDGs) number 8 on Decent Work and Economic Growth is of critical importance for Rwanda. There is a need to ensure inclusive equitable economic growth hand in hand with the creation of productive and sustainable jobs.
Indeed Rwanda is certainly on the right track for achieving SDG Goal 8.One example is that the Government, alongside the trade unions and employers’ organisations, supported by the International Labour Organisation are working together to adopt the first Decent Work Country Programme. This 5 year programme aims to first address low earnings, underemployment, and unemployment and the expansion of jobs and opportunity. Second, the acceleration and strengthening of the education attainment and skills of job seekers and workers. Third, the increase in coverage of social protection, including for those in the informal sector where most jobs are still being created. And, finally, increases in capacity of national institutions, including the organisations of workers and employers in order to promote social dialogue that would lead to higher productivity and better working conditions.
Rwanda has made commitments and progress towards decent work since the end of 1994 Genocide against Tutsi. The benefits of economic growth and social development include among others the general improved living conditions of Rwandans and significant declines in poverty along with the ratification and enforcement of several international labour standards and the SDGs.
On this day I salute all Rwandan workers and wish to congratulate the Government, the trade unions and the employers organisations on their efforts towards making decent work a reality for every worker.
Dr. Mary Kawar is the ILO Country Director for Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and Burundi based in Dar Es Salaam.