On 1st May 2008, Rwanda like many other nations around the world celebrated the International Labor Day. On this day a number of employers celebrated the hard work of their employees and promised them heaven and earth. Unfortunately, very few employees know their rights and are thus constantly abused by their employers.
Labor Day however, is a day to build good relationships between employees and employers. Though it is hard to tell how important workers are to their employers, there is no doubt that they deserve the best once in a while and their rights should remain intact.
"Safe and health work is vital. If there is provision of the necessary and enough protecting material, and people work in a right way, it would be a way of fighting employee’s abuse, says Biraboneye, a coordinator of promotion of health and security of workers on work- project".
He also blames employers who do not declare the right number of employees so as to avoid right taxation. However, employees should not also accept working in such conditions for the sake of maintaining their jobs.
He adds that; employers, who do not present employees’ contributions to the Social Security Fund of Rwanda (CSR), deny the workers their benefits especially in their elderly times. It is cheating employees since most of them (employers) deduct employees’ salaries, and yet do not take it where it is supposed to go.
"Due to scarcity of employment, workers do not claim for their rights and consequently suffer the risks," Biraboneye says.
In some cases there, employees do not utilize protective equipment given to them when they are at work as their rights demand. They sometimes for example, refuse to use protective glasses when wielding metals. This is a self created problem and workers should be aware.
Biraboneye observed the uniqueness of this year’s labor in Rwanda; for the past 25 years, the world has been commemorating the dead and wounded workers at work (JIC). However, for the first time this year, Rwanda under the Trade Union Confederation of Rwanda (CESTRAR) commemorated the dead and wounded workers on work. he remarks. This actually made the International Labor Day, more relevant to Rwandan workers.
Every April 28, for instance, is an International Day to commemorate the Dead and Wounded Workers on work. This is a sign of honour to those who die giving a hand at work.
It should be every one’s (government, employer) duty to be concerned with worker’s health and safety in the country.
It is against this background that we should concur with Professor Bernhard Tenckhoff, Director of Operation Safety Management at Kigali Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) when he says that; "the government should work hand in hand with trade unions in ensuring the safety and health of workers in the country". The trade unions should work together with the government as partners and not competitors.
Bernhard adds that; it is very important for employers to deal with the occupational safety and health for their workers here in Rwanda because it will ensure success and development in the country". The fraternity too, should be geared towards job creation and protection.
And on another positive note, the Director of Labor in the Ministry of Labor, Julie Mukamana says that the problem of job scarcity in the country was being addressed.
"Many jobs were created after the laying off of many workers in the public sector," Mukamana affirms.
She also adds that many people have become job creators and were being facilitated in acquiring loans from micro-finance institutions.
Nonetheless, the Secretary General of CESTRAR Eric Manzi, complains that a number of people continue to take risks at work. There is therefore a call for government’s hand in the problem.
"We interpret it to the government, show them that it is the government with the first responsibility to minimize the workers exposure to risks," Manzi said.
All these notwithstanding, we should always celebrate Labor Day in style by evaluating what has been done at our places of work. This will help us to recognize the employees, for the work done.
The classic celebrations of the day are normally characterised by; parades, speeches, etcetera. This is however, is not enough, and employers should always accomplish what is promised, while workers also have to develop new attitudes towards their work.