Huye — Workers at a local cleaning company, Kigali Professional Cleaners (KPC), Wednesday morning laid down their tools for several hours over alleged lack of social security cover remittances by the employer.
The workers, who are deployed at the National University of Rwanda, accused their employer of failure to deposit their social security contributions to the relevant body despite deducting money from their monthly salaries.
The number of those striking could not be determined by press time.
A number of the workers who spoke to The New Times said their contributions amounted to Rwf 750 per month. The highest paid worker receives a monthly salary of Rwf 25,000.
It was not clear how many employees are attached to the university, but highly placed sources within the Huye-based institution, which is the biggest in the country, say tender documents submitted when the company was bidding indicated it would employ not less than 310 people.
KPC has been operating within the varsity premises since May 2011 with the contract due to expire in mid 2013 but it has reportedly been suspended ahead of the stipulated time.
According to sources, the issue of the unpaid contributions arose in May, after the employees realised that their money had not been remitted to the pension body for over a year.
It was then mutually agreed that the employer refunds the money to the workers in cash, partly because the university had terminated the contract, meaning that they may not remain in employment.
"But the pledge was never honoured, they only gave us part of the total sum," one employee who preferred anonymity told The New Times.
"He [the employer] only gave us 50 percent of the money he owed us and we are yet to receive the other part," said Pauline Mukarugwiza.
"We were supposed to receive the remaining amount in September but till now, we have not received it".
Breach of contract
Meanwhile, sources told The New Times of mounting tension within the company following the university's decision to suspend the contract over what it termed as "the failure to honour the terms stipulated in the contract."
Officials at the higher institution of learning confirmed the decision.
"Our contract with the cleaning company was supposed to end in May 2013 but we have suspended it and it is ending at the end of this year," Tharcisse Sinzi, the NUR's Director of Estates, confirmed.
"The decision was reached after the company failed to honour the terms of our agreement," he explained.
According to Sinzi, the university pays over Rwf 9 million per month on cleaning activities at the Huye campus and five other university sites.
The official said the university could not intervene in the issue, noting that it is the employer's responsibility.
"We have a contract with the company and the university is in no way involved in the recruitment or management of the workers," he stated, advising the workers to sue the company's management.
"We have a legal officer who can help them," he said.
But, the official maintained that the university will continue discussions with the contractor to ensure that the rights of the workers are respected.
"These people are working within respected institutions and we cannot sit and relax while their rights are trampled upon," Sinzi said.
Sinzi pointed out that various university officials had tried unsuccessfully to contact via phone the employer, Elias Gategaya, who is believed to be holed up in Kigali, but he failed to pick up their calls.
An email sent to the Gategaya and seen by The New Times instructed him to report to the Huye-campus to settle the issue.
"We tried in vain to get in touch with you and your representative here could not have the employees back on their duty, something which affected our contract. We kindly request you to come here immediately and address the issue", the email, written by Seth Ruvumbura, NUR's Contract Manager, reads.
By press time, it was not yet clear whether he had responded to the call.
Repeated phone calls to Gategaya by The New Times were futile as his known mobile phone line remained off for two days.
Meanwhile, other employees have accused their boss of delaying their salaries and occasionally failing to pay them.
Some of them claimed that the company owes them salaries of between one and two months.
"Even to get our salaries, we have to abandon work for several hours," one employee claimed.
The New Times could not independently verify the claims.