- Rwandan workers are in "desperate lack of trade union rights," according to a report presented today. Workers in practical terms have close to no possibilities when it comes to staging a strike or demanding their legal labour rights. Further, child labour is common and women are discriminated against, the report says.
- Trade union rights are a misnomer in Rwanda, according to a new report launched today by the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). The report's launch coincides with the World Trade Organisation's (WTO) review on Rwandan trade policy this week.
The ICFTU report on the central African country shows "shortcomings in the application of several core labour conventions, which the government itself has ratified and calls upon the Rwandan authorities to comply with core labour standards," according to the global trade union confederation.
The report identifies several legal failings, particularly concerning the right to strike. For example, strikes were always subject to the obligatory intervention of a conciliation council before they can take place, and there is an excessively broad definition of so-called "essential" services in which strikes are prohibited, ICFTU found.
Besides these legal restrictions, the Rwandan government and many employers were "opposed to the idea of trade unions operating freely," ICFTU says. "Labour legislation is rarely enforced due to a lack of inspectors and an insufficient number of labour courts, compounding the workers' rights abuses which Rwandan workers face."
Child labour was found to be prevalent in Rwanda. Most children work in subsistence farming, in small companies and on tea plantations. Many children, mainly war orphans, further work as domestic servants.
These children were said to receive low wages and "abuse is common." Furthermore, there are some 7,000 street children in Rwanda, whose income is dependent on selling goods, begging and stealing. School enrolment is low and public schools lack even the most basic supplies.
Turning to the subject of discrimination, the report notes that women are mainly employed in subsistence farming and low-wage jobs. "Although government programmes have contributed to progress in eliminating discrimination against women and ethnic groups, overall opportunities for employment, education and promotion for women remain limited," IFCTU said.
The report further highlights the trafficking of women and children for forced labour and sexual exploitation which is closely linked to instability and conflict in certain regions. There were also reports of forced coltan mining by prisoners, as well as other forms of forced labour. These reports were however strongly rejected by Rwandan authorities last year.
In conclusion, the ICFTU today called upon the government of Rwanda to "apply the core labour conventions that it has indeed ratified and to bring its legislation into line with International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conventions."
- Labour law enforcement must be improved, including better labour inspection and the establishment of labour courts, the trade unionists said. "Furthermore, the government must continue to improve the position of women in the labour market."
The confederation also urged Rwandan authorities to sustain its efforts to eliminate child labour, particularly domestic child labour, and to reduce the number of street children. "Eliminating the trafficking of women and the practice of prisoner forced labour should also be a high priority," the trade unionists finally advised.
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