Rwanda: No End to Feud Between Public Utility Body and Trade Union

9 September 2019

The Energy, Water, and Sanitation Workers Union--SYPELGAZ--has said that it is frustrated by what it has termed as the lack of progress in the proposed compensation of hundreds of former employees of the Energy and Water Utilities, EWASA, for 'wrongful' dismissal.

Earlier last year, the union petitioned the court seeking redress for the 600 employees of the public utility body who were dismissed from work in 2015. The body has since been split into two firms--Rwanda Energy Group (REG) and Water and Sanitation Corporation (WASAC).

Jordi-Michel Musoni, the president of SYPELGAZ, described the current situation as "justice delayed is justice denied."

"Our case has been eternal, if I may call it so. Last year, in May, the ministry of infrastructure in collaboration with REG and WASAC invited former workers of EWSA and they committed to solving their claims within two months. Since then up to now, we are receiving only empty promises."

In May last year, the parties discussed a proposal by the Ministry of Infrastructure to settle the matter amicably.

The parties agreed to withdraw the lawsuits in order to forge an amicable solution.

In June 2018, Ron Weiss, the REG CEO stated that the issue would be closed in July 2019.

In September last year, the Ministry of Justice was to give a legal opinion on the way forward over the longstanding feud.

"But now you see we are in September and it is still a long way to go," Musoni said.

When reached for comment, Weiss told The New Times that the file is in the ministry of finance and economic planning pending payments.

Geoffrey Zawadi, the Human Resources Director of REG, said: "This has not been a simple issue" that can be resolved in a month or two.

"It has been kind of complex; it involves many people and their claims were also multiple. Every claimant has about five claims that had to be properly calculated. And that wasn't enough as we also had to agree on who was going to take the responsibility to pay these people. So, there were many consultations between many stakeholders."

Finally, he said, they have reached a conclusion on who to pay and how much to pay.

They know who is going to pay, he said, and they have submitted the "final file" to the Ministry of Finance on Monday, this week, "and there is an agreement that is satisfactory."

"One exercise also remaining is that we need to call these people [the laid-off former employees of the energy and water utilities] and they sign for everything we have calculated for them. We profiled their bank details and they need to come and confirm, plus amounts calculated for them."

This, Zawadi said, he hopes could be done this week.

"So, in my opinion, this file is finally coming to an end because most of the things are in place. There is very good progress because initially, there were claims but we did not know how much is involved and so on. All these answers are available now."

Asked how much is owed the laid-off workers, Zawadi noted that for REG alone, "it is more than" Rwf5 billion.

"Wasac also has its own calculation but it is not a small figure. I can't speak for them."

For the trade union, however, they need to see concrete results before they can accept that real progress was made in the refunding step since they seem to have lost all hope considering the manner in which things have dragged on for long.

SYPELGAZ has always criticized what it refers to as unjust treatment of hundreds of former employees of the energy and water utility agencies who were laid off.

Trade unionists petitioned the Senate in 2015.

According to Musoni, another "very serious problem" is that some workers who won cases in court (51 cases so far from High Court and 50 cases still in intermediary Court) are not yet paid since last year, despite promises given by REG.

Most of these cases, he said, were finalized by courts between August and September 2018.

"They should pay first as per court decisions then continue with those eternal calculations for out of court cases. Failure to implement court decision is also an offense," he said.

"It seems Reg refused to implement the court decision but on the side of Wasac, the court decisions are implemented using bailiffs. Justice delayed is justice denied. Seriously, this is making the justice system questionable if someone can spend two years in court and years to get court decisions implemented in his or her favor."

Musoni noted that they collaborated with REG and Wasac "and they told us that Minecofin has accepted to release the funds but unfortunately calculations and availability of these figures by REG and Wasac to Minecofin are taking very very long."

"For us, we guess this is not their priority and [maybe] that's why it is not being speedily finalized."

The case, Musoni said concerns more than 1,600 workers - 928 from REG and 818 from Wasac - and their families who are "waiting for justice since 2015."

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