The New Times (Kigali)

20 November 2012

Rwanda: Hotel Employees Threaten to Sue Over Unpaid Wages

Dozens of employees of Top Tower Hotel, which is based in Kigali City, have threatened to sue the management over delayed salary payments and poor working conditions.

Citing working without contracts, the employees who all preferred anonymity for fear of victimisation, said they haven't been paid for the last two months.

According to sources, between 80 and 90 employees are affected, although the management puts the number of permanent employees to between 50 and 55 employees.

According to the workers, the employer has refused to pay them through banks, preferring to use cash, a practice that they say, frustrates their desire to access loans and services from their banks.

They have also accused the employer of refusing to avail them with work contracts.

"I am now suffering, I need to pay rent, feed my family and sort other issues. I spend the whole of my time here working but I am not paid, neither am I told when I will be paid," said one of employees.

Another wondered why they could not get communication from the employer.

"The boss has taken us for granted, we generate money for this hotel, and we should at least be given what we are due, said one of them.

"I have no working contract; we have asked for contracts for a long time but in vain, now people are afraid to complain for fear of being fired. We have experienced threats from the boss ," another employee said.

When contacted, Paolo Scarsellato, the General Manager of the hotel, which is home to the famous Kigali Casino, confirmed indeed that they pay their staff in cash and regularly deposits pension fee in social security fund for each staff.

"What has been happening for a long time, we pay our staff in cash, I do not know why, when I joined the hotel, it had been operating for 4 years and the staff always got their salaries in cash," said Scarsellato.

He conceded it was a challenge but he was also told it was the way the hotel operates.

"We pay social security for everybody I am not sure about the working contract for the staff but we should try to deal with it and solve the problem, we should work within the confines of the law," he added.

Regarding the payment which delayed he said that the hotel was robbed at the time, the staff was supposed to be paid.

"We have been robbed 7 million and it was what we planned to pay the staff, we assure the staff that by December we will have paid them all their salary arrears," he added.

Police recently arrested four security guards at the hotel for allegedly conniving to rob the hotel.

Meanwhile, when contacted for a comment, the Workers' Trade Union (CESTRAR) said employers have continued to harass and fire employees unfairly, though Rwanda is a signatory to international convention guaranteeing workers' rights.

The trade union's legal officer, Francois Butera, said despite some progress made, challenges still remain.

According to Butera, the union has received over 300 complaints of alleged unfair sacking making the bulk of the grievances this year. The complaints come from both private and public institutions.

Common cases involve employees who don't have contracts, those who complain about unbalanced salaries, employees who do not have social security numbers among others issues.

"We normally receive and advise workers and employers how to solve the issues. We give them legal assistance and help them understand the law guiding employment because most of workers and employers are not aware of their rights," Butera explained.

He noted that among the cases the association has helped to solve, 70 percent ended amicably.

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