Rwanda Workers' Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR) has called for government intervention to minimise cases of layoffs in private sector as lockdown takes toll on the economy.
This comes as private companies severely affected by the lockdown mostly in the service sector began reducing their workforce to cut costs.
Rwanda Today has learnt that about some local companies have started suspending employees’ contracts while some private schools, restaurants, transport and media companies laid off dozens of their workers.
A Kigali-based bus company has so far suspended employment contracts for at least 126 workers in the first batch sent home 66 drivers on March 14 while the second group of 60 drivers were laid off on March 21. “I was given my suspension letter via WhatsApp.
In the letter, the company told us that we are suspended for 90 days because the transport activities have been suspended,” a driver on Remera-Kabuga road told Rwanda Today on condition of anonymity because they are not authorised to speak on behalf of the company.
Africain Biraboneye, deputy secretary-general of CESTRAR told Rwanda Today that, as of last Friday, around 10 letters from big employing companies laying off their employees were brought to their attention.
“When someone is to be laid off, there some specific procedures that should be followed as the law regulating labour relations in Rwanda strictly indicates, and some of these aspects are being disregarded,” said Mr Biraboneye. “Though there is economic hardship within many companies when you have a closer look at how these people are being laid off without due consultations with trade unions or labour inspectors on how it should be carried out and who should be temporally suspended.” he added.
According to Mr Biraboneye, Some of the outcomes of the social dialogue that were thought to take place before laying off could be taking advantage of the pandemic to exploit employees.
According to the law regulating labour relations, suspension of an employment contract due to economic or technical reasons, an employee cannot be laid off for a period longer than 90 days during the same period in one year. But according to Jean Claude Ndayisenga, a Kigali-based lawyer, companies are struggling economically, with most of them opting to suspend the employees for the period set out in the law to comply with the law regulating labour relations in the country. “We cannot simply say that they complied since we don’t know when the pandemic will end. What if it exceeds those days set in the law? Will it be considered as unfair dismissal?” Mr Ndayisenga told Rwanda Today, adding that the best approach is negotiation with the employee. “The consequences of coronavirus are many in all sectors.
Nothing can handle them properly if we try to look at them in line with the laws. The better way of dealing with these consequences is a negotiation between employee and employer and come up with a mutually discussed result and disregards laws,” he said.
In a statement issued on April 8, CESTRAR requested the government to establish the special guarantee fund that could save the small and medium enterprises from collapsing after the pandemic.
“Though we cannot tell right now the total numbers of affected many people have been affected, and some of the small and medium companies will struggle again to revive after a pandemic period, under which they will need a stimulus funding either in the form of subsidized loans or support,” said Biraboneye.