It is a Tuesday morning in Kigali and from where I sit, I watch some construction worker labouring on a site. I sip on my coffee, enjoying the fine scent of good quality beans.
I feel fresh and ready to start my day. I lazily flip through yesterday’s newspaper, but I can’t help but look back at the workers outside my window.
The laborers are wearing helmets and have tools in their hands. Their fingers are white with the dust of cement. They are sweaty, occasionally wiping their brows with the back of their hands.
They look thirsty and tired, there’s a long day ahead of them. It’s 8:00AM on this Tuesday morning, my day has just began, so has theirs.
As I watch these men at work, I am struck by the differences in our lives, but more so, the underlying similarity- we are all working to make ends meet.
As I ponder on this, I realize that though the construction workers and I may be working in different environments, we have a common goal at the end of the day, to go home to our families and provide the basic needs-food, clothing and shelter.
The question is, how many of us can afford these costs of living?
In Rwanda, we pride ourselves in developing as fast and as carefully as the next emerging market. We have ambitions and objectives that are set so high, that only a few can grasp the true impact they have on our economy.
At the end of the day, the average you and me, thinks that there has to be an incentive to work towards the common goal- personal wealth, which results to national wealth. The question is-do we all enjoy this particular incentive?
As I watch the construction workers labor away, I pick out one man who stands at the edge of a high wall, balancing on two unsteady stone blocks.
He whistles in a merry tune, as he slaps wet cement on a stone slab-oblivious to my intent, wary gaze, oblivious to the 6 feet of danger below him.
I silently say a little prayer of thanks that the government passed a policy for Insurance to all labor workers- but then, are they all covered?
If the construction worker was to slip and fall, would his insurance cover the worst of circumstances?
According to one of the builders, the least paid laborer earns 1000 frw per day, while the most earns 2500 frw per day. This would be between 30 000 frw and 70 000 frw per month respectively. Is he happy?
Does his employer think of him as more than a construction worker, hence giving him a personal training plan to enhance his skills?
Does he have a choice to earn better? During a couple of visits to different agricultural sectors earlier this year, I noted that the laborers and farmers in rural areas are paid even less than in urban areas(naturally) ,ranging from 200 frw to 500 frw per day.
If compared to the yield of profit made out of their products, this is an exploitation of human resources-skilled or unskilled. Can this change?
The issue of salary grading has reigned in Rwanda for a long time – contributing to the ever growing gap between the upper and middle class, and the lower class-informal sector.
Looking at the middle income segment where two years ago the average minimum salary for the public sector was 50 000 frw, it has increased to 100 000 frw.
This is by no means a comparison to the private sector where salaries have increased to around 250 000 frw from about 150 000 frw.
The informal sector is paid according to the levels of labour – in this case – the example of the said construction worker.
Concerning other challenges in salary pay , employees are generally faced with the issue of grading, facing cases where their monthly incomes are not equivalent to their job descriptions. In some areas it is even worse-where some employees have the same jobs, and earn different salaries.
And a good look at the Rwandan market shows a high pricing of commodities-whether necessities or ostentatious goods, in comparison to our sister countries.
It is time to look at the greener pastures that the Regional integration into the East African Community provides to the Rwandan citizens.
With East African countries coming together, it may be that competition and demand for human resource development will teach the Rwandan market a thing or two about taking care of their employees.
In a developing country such as ours, businesses in both the public and private sector have a tendency to pay poorly or to mismanage the employee wages - complaints of salary delays are a common issue.
The best example of a lack of incentive amongst employees is in government institutions. Walk into a government office and you are greeted by slack of pace or a sleepy, bored face –and in some cases, a total lack of expression.
The receptionist’s face registers a look of dismissal. You can rest assured that you’ll be attended to, ten minutes after feeling lost and frustrated.
At first, you tend to blame it on the Rwandan culture , but once you dwell deeper into the complex nature of this employee’s attitude (which reflects many others) you note that they probably aren’t happy. Why?
Human nature demands that one’s work is equal to one’s pay. This is why, the elements of staff loyalty to one’s company are totally lacking in today’s business environment.
A look at the Kenyan market gives you an understanding of how well companies operate. The staff members are paid well, or at least with a good consideration to the demands of the costs of living in the Kenyan economy.
Companies invest in professional training, professional development programs and induction courses for staff. At the end of the day, wherever you go, be it a supermarket, the laundry, bank or restaurant you are treated with a level of respect and charm that builds a positive, lasting impression reflected on the company.
This is a necessity in our Rwandan business and public sectors. If we are to reach the next level of development , let us start with investing in our human resources- after all, they are the task force drivers to a successful future for our country.
It’s 9:30AM, and I’m revving with energy . I glance back at the construction workers, after one hour of laying brick upon brick, they have all stopped working and started talking.
There’s a slouch in their frames and one of them seems bemused by a comment from his mate. I can only hope that it is their break-time- not a sudden stop to work. I wouldn’t call it incompetence at the work place, really – I don’t think they enjoy the fruits of their labor, do you?