21 September 2018

Rwanda: Attorney General to Give Opinion on Water, Energy Utilities Employee Benefits Stand-Off

The Ministry of Justice will give a legal opinion on the way forward over the longstanding feud over what trade unions believe was the unfair dismissal of more than 600 employees of the former energy and water utility agency, EWSA.

The employees lost their jobs in 2015, when government split the energy division from that of water, thereby forming two autonomous institutions.

Other claims include not following the laws in place to regularise remuneration for some of those that were deployed into the newly created utility companies.

The Energy Water and Sanitation Authority (EWSA), was dissolved to form the Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC).

The latest development comes after representatives of SYPELGAZ, the trade union for energy, water and sanitation, once more held a meeting with chief executives of REG and WASAC on Wednesday, in an effort to solve the issue.

Jordi-Michel Musoni, the president of SYPELGAZ, said: "We had [the second] meeting (Wednesday) evening. Both CEOs were present. The update is that they are willing to pay even the two remaining claims which they had earlier refused. But they are first seeking advice from the ministry of justice."

He said that a meeting is planned today (Friday) between the ministries of Justice, Infrastructure and that of Public Service.

"They will communicate to us their final decision".

Last year, the union petitioned court over the alleged illegal dismissal of more than 600 former employees having exhausted other avenues to settle the matter amicably.

The petition highlighted unaddressed cases of alleged lack of respect for the workers' rights in the process of dismissal.

On May 23, this year, the parties discussed a proposal by the Ministry of Infrastructure to settle the matter amicably.

What was agreed included suspending filed lawsuits to give negotiations a chance to reach an amicable solution.

However, SYPELGAZ later accused the Ministry of Infrastructure and the two utility companies of dragging their feet and lacking commitment to resolve issue as agreed during the May meeting in which parties resolved to conclude negotiations within two months.

After a meeting held last week, which was chaired by Ron Weiss, the CEO of REG, Musoni said he was "hopeful."

Aimé Muzora, the Director General of WASAC, was not present in last week's meeting but he attended the one held on Wednesday.

He told The New Times that: "We did meet but now we are waiting for a legal opinion from the ministry of justice. We hope to agree on some of the claims they have. The claims include some salaries from the new structure that they were supposed to be paid and some benefits that go with a contract termination."

The trade union is, among others, seeking compensation for illegal dismissal in addition to regularisation of salary in line with the 2013 Prime Minister's Order on public sector salary structure.

According to Musoni, even though REG and WASAC are willing to adjust, among others, the terminal benefits given to workers based on the new salary structure of 2013 they remain unwilling to pay adjustment of bonuses given to workers in years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 and payment of horizontal promotion for the period from July 2014-2015.

What they are negotiating is related to salary benefits that all affected workers should have received since 2013. Their claims also apply to both workers who were laid off in the 2015 EWSA reform and those who remained with either REG or WASAC.

Musoni remains cautiously optimistic.

On Thursday, he told The New Times that "the trend is promising but there is one issue that both sides are still having concessions on. Each party has a position it sticks on and does not seem to let go"

"They want us to agree that the agreement will close all other individual cases such as interim positions not paid, extra hours not paid, lawyers' fees, and so on. But for us we don't want this to prevent workers their rights of choice between two options [first option is to file the case in court; the other is to accept results of out of court negotiations] as this is what we agreed in the first meeting of 23rd May."

The trade union says they are sure to win the case should matters continue to court.

Earlier, Musoni stressed that SYPELGAZ wants REG and WASAC to pay all dues to workers "and if not, we continue filing cases in court and we are sure to win because we have jurisprudence."

He says more than 100 cases were filed in courts of law and in all cases, workers won.

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