04 May, 2022

International Labour Day celebration: Workers in Rwanda continue to wait for the implementation of minimum wage

29 April 2022

Every year on May first, the world celebrates International Labour Day. A occasion for many actors of all levels in various areas to remember that well done jobs together with economic and responsible investments create real and sustainable wealth. With this celebration of 2022, workers in Rwanda are still waiting: the Government takes too long before implementing the minimum guaranteed wage as indicated by the national labour law.

What is the obstacle in implementing the minimum wage?

Article 68 of the Rwanda Labour Law as adopted in 2018 indicates clearly that “An Order of the Minister in charge of Labour determines minimum wage”. The very same provision was highlighted in the previous Law repealed in 2018. Since its adoption in 2013, until the abrogation, the Ministerial Order has been waited for in vain in spite of many advocacy campaigns and promises from Government officials.

In 2018, when the MPs at the National Assembly adopted the current Labour Law, they insisted in demanding the concerned Minister to quickly do what was necessary to have all Ministerial Orders passed. Today, almost all the orders have been passed, except two: one on the Trade unions registration, another on the minimum wages according to the different working sectors.

When the Rwandan Prime Minister, Edouard NGIRENTE, held a press conference on March 16th, 2022, he gave the following answer to a journalist who asked him about the fate of the minimum wage in Rwanda: “In coming days, the country will determine the minimum wage. After that setting, the labour contracts shall follow in precising working hours and tasks. We are working on it so that the minimum wage could be determined”.

That promise is not new at all and the minimum wage is still waited for. No worker in Rwanda knows the real reasons that hinder the setting of the minimum wage. With this new labour day celebration, most of workers and their families with very poor salaries do not know at all when the promises will be converted into reality.

Workers are irreproachable

The lean wages do not discourage workers from having a good behavior at workplace and doing their jobs well, in the formal private sector or in the informal economy. They are not discouraged people, in spite of the hard context. Contrary to what could happen, workers want to see their employing companies prosper as a guarantee to sustainable jobs and to family needs to be more or less satisfied, as well as to the national development.

Each observer notes the rapid progress that Rwanda continues to achieve in all sectors:  infrastructures, various services, socioeconomic development, mining, etc. All of this could not has been achieved if workers did not have invested responsibly their force, intelligence and professionalism at their workplace.

However, it’s not wise to think that it’s not necessary to stimulate workers by setting the minimum wage since the same workers are doing they duties well. It’s not only an obvious injustice, but also a big mistake. Companies and the country will obtain lot of gains if that investment of force, intelligence and professionalism is duly acknowledged and rewarded.

Law increasing the amount of untaxed small wages is also waited for

At the end of 2021, the National Assembly examined the project law that intended to increase the amount of the untaxed monthly small wages. That project Law increased that amount to 60 thousands Rwf  (nearly 60 Euros), from the current amount of 30 thousands Rwf (nearly 30 Euros). At that moment, some MPs expressed their wish to see the amount increased to 100 thousands Rwf (nearly 100 Euros).

That was equally another good news to many workers with poor wages and their respective families. In fact, some employers are used to freeze wages at 30 thousands Rwf in order to avoid paying taxes and social contributions for workers. Workers are then always classified as casual workers or day labourers, in spite of many years of service and legal provisions that compel the payment of social contributions for every worker.

Employers maintain that bad behaviour because it allows them to dismiss workers when and how they want. The increasing amount of untaxed small wages will absolutely work in favour of workers whose wages will likely increase, instead of continuing the freeze at 30 thousands Rwf.

We believe the waiting will not be endless

In Rwanda, we all know that the Government is committed to promote the socioeconomic development and the well-being of its people. That is obvious. “The citizen first” is the leitmotiv of the whole good governance that must characterize all administrative instances at the central and local levels. Most of those citizens are constituted of workers. Even those citizens who do not work because of the advanced old age or because they are still children, all of them are under care of active workers.

« The citizen first » also means that it’s very important to highly appreciate the efforts and the commitment at work of all citizens. It’s effectively because of this their families can live and the country can develop. The setting of the guaranteed minimum wage and the increase of the amount of untaxed small wages are both necessary and complementary. We all want to see them translated from long lasting promises into concrete reality.

Séraphin Gasore is the author of this article initially published in Kinyarwanda, mother tongue in Rwanda, in the three major online media of the country. He is also the Executive Secretary of INSP!R Zamuka, a national network that puts together 8 member organizations: trade unions involved in defending and promoting working rights; organizations involved in the social and solidary economy; those involved in technical and professional training to the youth and those involved in care of old people.

Concerning the national context of this article: Rwanda is a small country of Eastern and Central Africa. It counts nearly 13 millions of people on a territory of 26,338 square km. Rwanda has the ambition to become a medium income country in 2035. The annual income per capita is nearly 800 USD. 36% of the population is under the poverty line. The known minimum wage has been set in 1980. Today, it is obviously obsolete and the employers are very free to do want they want in setting wages inside companies.

 

Written by Séraphin Gasore

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