Rwanda’s minimum wage has been a paltry Rwf100 (a day) since the 1980s despite the changes in the cost of living over the three decades.
Calls to review the minimum wage by trade unions have often been answered with, “we are working on it,” which has seen the progress drag over five years.
The delays over time, trade unions and employees organisations say, could have led to exploitation of employees and made it difficult to negotiate salaries.
Rwanda is a member of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and has ratified the convention on minimum wage.
The convention provides that the minimum wage takes into account cost of living and relative living standards to have relevance to social economic conditions and protection from unemployment.
The convention also provides that economic factors be taken into account, including the requirements of economic development and levels of productivity, among others.
In an attempt to fast track the process, four trade unions have prepared a position paper for policy input regarding minimum wage.
Séraphin Gasore, the secretary-general of Rwanda Federation of Trade Unions (Cotraf), told The New Times that they are conducting advocacy among the concerned government authorities and ministries to change status quo.
He said that the delay to review the wage has put workers in a position where they can barely negotiate for their salaries.
Gasore said that talk of ‘work in progress’ on the issue has been common over the years without much progress.
“Every time they say that the law will be amended and validated, but you do not require to amend law to fix the minimum wage. Minimum is a right for workers, it is only a ministerial order that is required to fix it in various sectors,” he said.
Article 76 of the 2009 labour law stipulates that the minimum wage will be determined by a ministerial order by the Minister of Labour after collective consultations.
“Determining of the minimum guaranteed inter-professional wage: The minimum guaranteed wage (MGW) per categories of work shall be determined by an Order of the Minister in charge of labour after collective consultations with the concerned organs,” the article reads.
However, the ‘flaw’ in the law in regards to minimum wage is that its third article excludes the informal sector from provision of the law.
“The informal sector worker is not subjected to provisions of this law, except for issues relating to social security, the trade union organisations and those relating to health and safety at workplace,” Article 3 reads.
This means that even if a ministerial order was issued at the moment, it would only be relevant to only less than a tenth of the total workforce in the country.
What trade unions propose
According to recent employment statistics from the National Institute of Statistics of Rwanda, the informal sector is the largest employer at 91 per cent of the total workforce.
In their proposition to government, the trade unions are not giving precise minimum wage propositions but are showing cost of living numbers.
“We do not have a precise proposition. But we have conducted research to compare the prices on the market, cost of living and what workers earn every month. We did this to show the authorities the comparison between what workers are paid and the cost of living,” Gasore said.
He explained that on average, the city dwellers require a minimum Rwf127,000 to bare the current cost of living while rural workers require a minimum of Rwf86,000.
“However, those are not proposition of minimum wages,” he clarified.
The NSIR employment statistics showed that the average income from paid employment of employees at main job as of February this year was about Rwf55,934 per month while the median was Rwf20,800.
The national average hourly cash income from employment of employees at main job was Rwf394 per hour while the corresponding values were Rwf228 per hour in agriculture, Rwf529 per hour in industry and Rwf604 per hour in services.
Gasore says the review would not only be ideal for employees but also the economy as it would boost purchasing power.
“It will boost the purchasing power of the people, who will in-turn boost the performance of the economy through tax returns and consumption. It will also have an impact on the social conditions of Rwandans,” he said.
The Minister for Public Service and Labour, Fanfan Rwanyindo Kayirangwa, told The New Times that review of the minimum wage was a work in progress.
She said that they were awaiting the passing of a new labour law after which they would set up a ministerial order.
In the meantime, she said that consultations were ongoing involving the various stakeholders, including employers and labour organisations.
The private sector is also keen to have a relevant minimum wage set soon to inform hiring and remuneration of employees.
Stephen Ruzibiza, the chief executive of the Private Sector Federation, said, at the moment, payments are often based on negotiations.
This however leaves room for exploitation as there is no relevant base of minimum wage.
“PSF has requested for a minimum wage to be set up to guide in payment and negotiation processes,” he explained.
PSF is among the involved parties in consultations on the minimum wage review.