Elections OF workers’ representatives in Rwanda are scheduled for June, this year.
And as the date draws closer, different labour unions have stepped up recruitments of members come election day. But this has set them on a collision course with employers.
Some employers who talked to The New Times on condition of anonymity say meeting their staff without their consent as undermining their authority.
Last week, Abdon Faustin Nkotanyi, the executive secretary of SENJOUSMEL/SYNEDUC, a Kigali based labour union petitioned Gasabo district labour inspector, accusing Horizon School (Kicukiro) administration of blocking its efforts to meet school employees.
Elodie Nyirandegeya, the school director, in a letter dated February 15, stopped the trade union from recruiting members in her school, because “they were proposing business hours for their meetings and they wanted to come in without district’s authorisation.”
“I was surprised by the action of this trade union asking me to make sure that all the staff are around at the time they wanted to meet with them,” Nyirandegeya told The New Times last week. She described the action as invasion of her school.
But SENJOUSMEL/SYNEDUC argues that apart from giving notice, provisions of the rules of labour unions relating to recruitment of new members do not require them to seek permission to meet with employees of any institution.
“If they continue denying us access, we will still find a way to have the meeting because both international conventions and our labour law protect us,” said Nkotanyi.
The case is similar to one concerning Kabuye Sugar Works (KSW) officials of Congress of Labour and Brotherhood (Cotraf) another local labour union.
Late last month, Contaf filed a police case against KSW after its official, Nadia Mukampalirwa, was reportedly assaulted by factory administrators.
Investigations are ongoing but KSW maintains that the labour activist was not beaten; adding that, all they know is that Cotraf officials tried to illegally enter the factory in apparent competition with Centrale des Syndicats des Travailleurs du Rwanda (CESTRAR), another labour union which has already established its roots there.
KSW has about 500 workers while Horizon School has 30.
This competition to register more members is increasing ahead of teh elections for the trade union which will lead the rest for the next five years to come. The trade union with the biggest active members is most likely to win.
Currently, the largest national labour union is CESTRAR with about 72, 000 members and also are the leaders of trade unions in the country.
Officials from the Ministry of Labour and Public Service say the most dominant union carries an advantage in a way that they have more influence on decisions the government takes over unions and they sit in more meetings with government compared to the rest.
Labour unions still weak-ministry
According to Alexander Twahirwa, the inspector of labour administration in the ministry, only three umbrella trade unions have been registered, namely CESTRAR, Cotraf and COSYLI.
The unions have a duty to provide legal advice to the employees and hear their concerns which they forward to their employers who can provide better living conditions and working environment.
Employees of different companies say that the unions in their companies advocated for them to have their salaries increased, but others say they conduct meetings stealthily because their employers are opposed to unions.
Twahirwa argued that unions have no issue with companies, but added that sometimes they behave immaturely while in the institutions where they want to recruit members.
“Sometimes they enter in a company like police officers conducting investigations. It cannot work like that,” he said.
The best approach, he said, is to have employer with you and convince them on the advantages of having staff join labour union and then agree on the best time to meet with members. From that point, they can give you a go ahead, otherwise confrontations would take place.”
“An employer decides everything in their company. If you don’t find diplomatic ways to make them understand your business, failure is likely. Our labour law encourages social dialogues not confrontations,” added Paul Ruzindana, an advisor on legal law in the ministry.
To regulate conflict between labour unions and employers, the government has put in place the national labour council made up of 20 members with the State, trade unions, civil society and employers each taking up five seats on the council.