12 December 2012

Uganda: Heart for Workers

Young entrepreneur gives casual labour a professional touch

Alfred Dusingizimana is one of 26 machine operator assistants at Safintra's Kicukiro factory, makers of roofing materials. Six days a week he loads and offloads steel from trucks, hauls materials around the factory and engages in various other manual tasks.

Dusingizimana formerly served as a security guard for a private company. The hours were long and the pay nominal. Earning less than Rwf1, 800 per day, he fell months behind on his rent and was failing to repay a Rwf100, 000 loan from his bank.

Then he met Colette Gakwaya Mugwaneza, Founder of Heart of Gold Nannies and Recruitment Agency; Heart of Gold, and everything changed.

With representation from Mugwaneza, Dusingizimana nearly quadrupled his earnings as a machine operator assistant compared to his work in security.

"Now I am able to pay rent and have paid Rwf50, 000 towards my loan with hope to pay the balance," he says.

Before Safintra, Dusingizimana suffered a back injury after falling from the top floor of a building under construction. Had it not been for Heart of Gold's strict policy requiring employers to supply accident insurance in addition to on-site health and safety provisions such as safety helmets and first aid care, he would have been left with hefty hospital bills and lost his job.

The 'heart' of the business:

Mugwaneza launched Heart of Gold in October 2011 with the aim of professionalising and protecting uneducated and unskilled female housekeepers.

As a youth leader, Mugwaneza observed migration patterns of rural women caused by meagre economic opportunities. She refused to accept the resulting injustices women endured by employers. "These uneducated women leave their families to go to the city because of poverty, to seek jobs," she explains. "Their lack of education only qualifies them to take care of children and clean the house."

She noted, however, that they had no job description, did everything from 5am-9pm, every day and yet they were young and needed rest and leave.

That is how the original incarnation, Heart of Gold Nannies, was born. The company sought to secure dignified employment opportunities for uneducated housekeepers while providing quality service to the working class.

In February 2012, Heart of Gold Nannies and Recruitment, the company's newest incarnation, diversified its services to include low-skilled, mostly male, casual labourers often hired on a day to day basis who rarely, if ever, receive compensation for overtime, occupational insurance, or provisions for basic safety coverage on site. Now Heart of Gold ensures they do.

Professionalisation and skill development:

Mugwaneza insists that lack of education and informal working relationships give employers ample opportunity to exploit housekeepers and casual workers. By ensuring that the workers make oral contracts on a three month basis directly with Heart of Gold, her company offers them compulsory trainings and evaluate their work performance, in consideration of future employment opportunities. During the training, they learn about health and safety issues.

The housekeepers are taught to use cleaning machines and tools and how to behave with a family and speak English. They are taught about their rights and who to contact if they are abused. Representatives at the National Women's Council even train them how to break the silence and overcome fear of reprisal from clients who abuse or mistreat them.

Heart of Gold also links them with clients such as Safintra or housekeeping employers. It also enters into a written contract with the client, guaranteeing workers and replacements when necessary.

Casual workers' wages are paid directly to Heart of Gold, which collects a commission of 10-15% of the workers' wages. In contrast, employers pay housekeepers directly.

Social enterprising:

Mugwaneza is a social entrepreneur with deep activist roots. As a youth leader she visited rural villages to sensitise youth for elections and engage with youth about unity and reconciliation, drugs and other topics.

After earning her degree in Business Administration in 2005, Mugwaneza, dismissed the idea of launching an NGO mainly because of reputation for squandering funds and inefficiency. Instead, she opted for a private sector enterprise that would make the most impact on her community. "I make money, I pay taxes to build my country, and I employ the youth," says the social business woman who employs 35 casual workers and 22 housekeepers.

As in the case of Dusingizimana, her employees retain premium earnings compared to independent workers as she bargains on their behalf to secure Rwf2, 000 to 3,200 per day for casual labourers, and between Rwf40, 000 and 75,000 per month for housekeepers. These rates are based on nine hour workdays for six days per week, not including overtime. It guarantees mass health insurance "mutuelle de santé" for every employee that is disciplined and reliable for three continuous months.

Social change through quality service:

By imbuing professionalism among its employees, Heart of Gold shows employers the benefits of treating their workers decently, with dignity, and in safe conditions.

Safintra, for example, is renowned for high quality steel and roofing and timely deliveries. For this, it requires reliable, disciplined staff. Heart of Gold workers ensure the company is running around-the-clock shifts, enabling 24-hours of non-stop production in order to satisfy a large-scale job requiring rapid turnover.

"Before, [a job] was a challenge to manage because it took much longer," confesses Jimmy Mucyo, Sales Executive for Safintra. Safintra praises the Heart of Gold workforce as disciplined and reliable. "Service is very good. They are here. They are stable. [Their] work is good. Every vehicle takes less time to unload."

No housekeeping employers were available to comment since Heart of Gold recently took a break from housekeeper recruitment. Mugwaneza had targeted foreign employers in the short run to launch the business but this niche requires more marketing efforts, time and capital which she is not ready to spend. Hopefully, this too will resume soon.

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