Rwanda: Workers' Unions Fault Labour Ministry Over Legal Vacuum

21 January 2020

Labour unions have called on the Government to expedite the process to put in place Ministerial Orders that would facilitate implementation of the new labour law.

Speaking to The New Times, several union leaders said that though there has been an effort to improve working conditions in the country, the delay by the Ministry of Public Service and Labour to publish necessary Ministerial Orders was undermining the spirit of the 2018 labour law.

Two of the most important legal instruments that are not in place are related to minimum wage and the list of light activities children aged between 13 and 15 can be engaged in – in a bid to fight child labour.

Africain Biraboneye, Deputy Secretary General of Rwanda Workers' Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR), said that lack of the ministerial orders is one the 'main challenges' facing the country's labour market at the moment.

"How is the law supposed to be implemented without enabling instruments?" he posed last week. "It's very difficult and, in the end, what you have is a law that seems to be hanging because there are no guidelines in place. It's almost like the law doesn't exist."

Biraboneye said that his team had raised the issue of habitual delays in issuing ministerial orders with the parliamentary standing committee on social affairs (that scrutinised the legislation), pointing out that the previous law had been repealed when there were still related ministerial orders that were not yet in place.

Dominique Bicamumpaka, president and coordinator of Congrès du Travail et de la Fraternité (COTRAF), said the push for publication of ministerial orders was not a new phenomenon.

"Originally, when discussions about the current labour law started in the parliament. Members of Parliament had requested that by the time the new law is gazetted, the Ministerial Orders should be ready as well and all the legal instruments published at the same time," he said.

He blamed the delays on the Ministry of Public Service and Labour (MIFOTRA), saying the situation has left many 'confused'.

"The labour law of 2009, for example, required that there is a minimum wage that would be set by a ministerial order, ten years later, nothing had come. To this day, we still have no such order. How do you implement laws with no guidelines?" he wondered.

Unionists say that lack of these legal instruments have rendered it impossible to push employers to implement the provisions of the new labour law, including ensuring that every employees is compensated fairly and eliminating child labour.

'Long, rigorous process'

They say the law is vague on such critical issues and can only serve the purpose once the ministerial orders in question are in place.

The Director of Labour Research and Employment Promotion, Faustin Mwambari, told The New Times that the delays can be blamed on the long and rigorous process through which ministerial orders are put in place.

"There is a process and it is usually long. The initial stage involves a drafting process that involves stakeholders, then the draft is forwarded to the Law Reform Commission and then to the Prime Minister.

"It is a long process and these are not the only laws these institutions are dealing with. The entire process takes some time," he said.

He, however, pointed out that the Orders are in the approval process and will be gazetted 'soon'.

Minimum wage

The process to put in place a minimum wage has been a very long one. In 2013, MIFOTRA said that it was working with the National Institute of Statistics (NIS) to collect data which would help the Government determine a new minimum wage.

At Rwf100 per day, the country's current minimum wage, which was set in the 1980s, is outdated and out of touch with today's economic realities.

The Minimum Wage Fixing Convention of 1970 agreed on by member states of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) indicates crucial elements to be considered while determining the level of minimum wages.

They include the needs of workers and their families, taking into account the general level of wages in the country, cost of living, social security benefits, and the relative living standards of other social groups.

The convention also states that economic factors, including the requirements of economic development, levels of productivity and the desirability of attaining and maintaining a high level of employment should be considered.

In March 2018, while introducing the bill seeking to review the labour law in Parliament, the Minister for Public Service and Labour, Fanfan Rwanyindo, had said that a ministerial order setting a new minimum wage was almost ready and would be published as soon as the new labour law was gazetted.

"We will not continue talking about setting up a minimum wage without doing it. You can trust us on our word that a minimum wage will be set up. We have done a lot of consultations about this," she said at the time.

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