In Rwanda a thousand workers stare at job losses

Wednesday April 1 2020


Much as restricting movement and locking down work was the prudent thing to do by government, it left many already vulnerable hand-to-mouth households desperate, with some not sure how they will sustain their families.PHOTO | CYRIL NDEGEYA 

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Over 3.4 million workers in the public and private sectors could lose jobs and grounded in their homes in the ongoing efforts by the government contain spread of Covid19.

As of Tuesday, this week, the country had 76 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Data by the National Institute of Statistics indicated that by November 2019 the country had 3.406,000 million people in employment.

While a few with formal jobs offering essential services are still able to access their workplaces, the majority have been forced to work remotely following an order by Office of Prime Minister The sectors that are hit hard are tourism, aviation, hotels, tour operator and event management whose services have been suspended.

For instance, over 20 conferences were suspended immediately that had been scheduled to take place in the first quarter of this year. Tourism activities are suspended as well. However, employees in informal sector, who are living hand to mouth that will be hard hit during the ongoing lockdown.

Unlike employees in formal sector who are protected by the labour laws, those in informal sector have limited options. The majority are unable to work from home as their work need physical presence at the work station.

For instance, thousands of motorists and taxi drivers are currently idling countrywide. And as formal businesses remain closed, their suppliers and support staff including cleaners, chefs are also affected.


A sense of panic and uncertainty saw some small business owners close shop indefinitely with some relocating to upcountry.

Currently, associations of workers in the informal sector are concerned about loan repayments.

“The government had taken the most important step to control spread of the virus by asking people to stay at home, however, there will be economic implications of keeping such a large work force at home”

“At the moment we are focusing on the members of the informal sector, some business operators have savings, but the most affected are the casual labourers and motorists.

We are trying to map out the most vulnerable and see how they can be helped,” said Rwanyindo Kayirangwa Fan, Minister for Public Service and Labour. While in order to minimise the cost of having such a big number of workforce at home, the government encouraged people to work from homes where possible.

Most ordinary citizens do not have proper working stations at home. Worse still, few private companies have the technology that can allow their staff to work remotely. For instance, few employees have a stable Internet connection or laptops to facilitate them to be productive.

Those who have a laptop and Internet connection are concerned about the cost and unstable connectivity. Others simply find it impossible to be productive when they live with extended families and do not have the space to work.

To facilitate people especially government employees to productively work from homes, government institutions like Rwanda Information Society Authority has been facilitating those who need collaboration platforms for instance conference meetings and document exchange platforms to be able to use them.

Some people have been able to have virtual 30-minute meetings with others. The National Bank of Rwanda in collaboration with mobile network operators like MTN and Airtel have also waived charges on mobile money transactions to be able to help people avid cash transactions.

Some employers, however, asked their employees to take annual leave during this period to avoid crowding at work place.