Trade unions in property wrangle

Trade unions operating in the country have asked the government for facilitation to enable them carry out their duties of advocating for respect of  workers’ rights.

Trade unions operating in the country have asked the government for facilitation to enable them carry out their duties of advocating for respect of  workers’ rights.

Their concern that first came up in 2007 was renewed last week, during a training session on labour rights organised by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the Rwandan Journalists Association (ARJ), in Bugesera District.

The National Congress for Labour and Fraternity (Cotraf), and the national umbrella of independent workers’ unions (Cosli), argued that Cestrar, the oldest trade union, was founded and facilitated by the government.

They also want government to compel Cestrar to share the premises they acquired from government at their inception in 1985, arguing that they are all doing similar work and therefore entitled to government facilitation.

“The building which is located in Gasabo District was given to them by the then ruling party (MRND), and the money that bought the building came from national coffers. We would like government to compel them to share office space with us because we do the same work,” said Dominique Bicamumpaka, the Cotraf general secretary.

“How would we operate effectively if some of us are favoured to the detriment of others?” he said.

“When we talk to the Labour ministry, they tell us that we should not have divorced from Cestrar if we wanted to keep enjoying facilitation,” said Floride Mukarugambwa, the Cosli president, adding that there was need for more unions to safeguard workers’ rights.

Cosli and Cotraf were founded in 1993 and 2003, respectively, by former members of Cestrar.  

However, Paul Ruzindana, an official in charge of trade unions at the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, said: “Government is not favouring any of the trade unions. Initially, It  may have supported Cestrar as an incentive to promote the rights of workers because there was no trade union at the time.”

Echoing this argument, Kabibi Kacyira Jowe, a legal advisor at Cestrar, said: “If a parent builds a house for one child, it does not mean that all the others who will come after him  will have claim on that house.”

Edouard Munyamariza, the chairperson of the Civil Society Platform, argued that if government supported Cestrar, the others should seek support directly from government instead of laying claim on what they are not entitled to.

“We (the civil society) are now allowed by law to operate businesses to support our advocacy work. They are free to start income-generating projects that will make them self-reliant,” Munyamariza said.