As the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic continues to hit households, it is becoming clear that the most vulnerable in our society are bearing the brunt.
Many are facing a great deal of uncertainty about the source of livelihoods as they continue to live hand to mouth.
While the government has tried to address their needs by rolling out social protection programmes, this help is neither sufficient nor sustainable. As we speak, it is no guess why people are saying the private sector needs to complement government efforts by investing and protecting jobs.
While so far, workers in the formal sector have been largely shielded from layoffs as they have contracts that give them protection, casual labourers who often work without contracts are feeling the pinch of abrupt layoffs. By definition, contracts give security. Their absence increases the risk of mistreatment at work including losing a source of income abruptly.
Yet casual labourers are important to our economy because they accept work at short notice, and they are the ones who have often shown that they have the necessary skills for the job and are prepared to work on an irregular basis.
Although casual workers have fewer employment rights, it is important that the Ministry of Labour ensures that they are entitled to a minimum set of benefits.
While the Rwandan labour law provides a minimum set of benefits for casual workers, this is rarely enforced because the majority of casual labourers tends to be illiterate. As a result, some employers take advantage of this and abuse the rights of the workers.
It is important that the Ministry of Labour intensifies supervision to ensure that the rights of casual workers employed on private projects are protected. Without the protection of government, casual workers are vulnerable to bullying and mistreatment. It is vital to make a concerted effort to engage and motivate casual workers – regardless of the lack of employment rights.
Worse still, the ongoing delay of major projects due to the pandemic is also forcing many companies to suspend recruitment of casual labourers and as a result, it is increasingly becoming difficult to find work.
The government needs to come up with concrete measures, including tax incentives, to help the private sector retain and create jobs. In particular, there is a need to ensure that casual workers find work as it will not only reduce the burden on the government to provide for their basic needs but also restore dignity to those who have been laid off and have no other source of income.
The more private companies are forced to lay off staff or temporary workers, the more difficult it will become to recover from the pandemic.