Rwanda Focus (Kigali)

8 August 2014

Rwanda: Tea Workers Want Increased Welfare

Tea unionists call for employers in the tea sector to respect the rights of their employees and promote social dialogue to find solutions within themselves to enhance their sector.

Dominique Bicamumpaka, president of Congress of Labor and Workers Brotherhood (COTRAF), stressed, "there is a need for social dialogue between employees and employers."

But employers are not on board. "They want to exploit their workers maximally," claims Bicamumpaka.

He says that over 80,000 people work in the tea sector and that they can easily be gathered in unions to advocate for themselves.

Despite that fact that many employers fight against worker's associations, as they fear that their interests can be compromised if the workers claim their rights, Bicampumpaka stresses that they need associations to improve their current livelihoods.

He also stresses that dialogue is crucial in the development of sectors and that employers should be proud to talk to the workers for better success for both parties.

"Dialogue and collaboration is a factor of motivation to the employee," he reiterates.

Pierre Claver Gatwaza, a tea production support officer at National agriculture Export Development Board (NAEB), indicates that strategies to increase productivity include land use consolidation, fertilizers, and good management.

"NAEB supports whatever promotes tea production and quality," he said. "If a factory does not collaborate with cooperatives, there cannot be good production."

"For cooperatives to be successful they need better management," he added, noting the need for collective commitment and collaboration among cooperatives.

Other unionists say also that good relations between employers and employees leads to positive outcomes and that the two parties should not be contradictory and should work for the national interest.

Workers are called for social dialogue to solve their problems and prevent conflicts as the economy depends on their labor.

However, some employers still hold workers' rights in poor regard.

Joseph Maniraguha, tea agronomist in Rulindo district, also finds that people working in tea plantations are not working in good conditions while they have a great contribution to the development of the country, as tea is one of Rwanda's leading exports.

He indicates that the majority of those workers who collect leaves to the factories are not given even basic equipment for better collection.

In addition to that, they are not paid life insurance and do not have contracts as workers, while their work is hard and laborious.

For collecting one kilogram of tealeaves, each worker is paid only Frw 28.

As a consequence, Maniraguha indicates that such poor conditions of tealeaf collectors are impacting the cycle of harvest, with negative implications on the production of tea: "Tealeaf collectors show up irregularly and it impacts on the cycle of harvest."

Problems faced by tea plantation employees include ignorance of labor procedures and law and lack of will from the employer.

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