CESTRAR, Confederation of Trade Unions in Rwanda, with an affiliation of 17 workers’ unions, and a membership currently 185,700 from different sectors of work, represents workers in Rwanda at all levels. CESTRAR promotes workers’ rights, and defends their professional and socioeconomic wellbeing.
Since the outbreak of COVID-19 globally and in Rwanda, CESTRAR has issued, among other initiatives, in collaboration with the Ministry of Public Service and Labour three advocacy press releases on a better way of dealing with the impact of the crisis on salaries, staff layoffs, social protection of wage workers and access to funds for small and medium enterprises to enable them maintain employment.
When the lockdown was imposed by the Government of Rwanda (GoR), after the confirmation of the first COVID-19 case in the country on 14 March 2020, all high frequency indicators show a sharp decline in Rwandan economic activity. In the second week of April 2020 (week 14), total turnovers and transactions declared by VAT-registered companies fell by 46 percent and 77 percent year-on-year respectively. While the main affected sub-sectors are trade, manufacturing, hotels and restaurants, subsistence casual workers have lost their employment opportunities—cleaners, karaningufu, masons and masonry aids, small vendors/traders, waivers (handcrafts producers), organized and informal potters, hawkers, cyclists, motor taxis operators, to name but these.
The UN Committee on Migrant Workers (CMW) and the UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of migrants warn that the COVID-19 pandemic is having serious and disproportionate effects on migrants and their families globally. Therefore, our call goes beyond national workers and extends to migrant workers and their families (UNCMW, 2020).
Cognisant of the foregoing, CESTRAR urges the GoR and its key partners to pursue stimulating and supporting private sector enterprises, jobs and incomes. Employment security is essential to the current wellbeing and future of work of all workers both from formal and informal economy. The GoR’s Economic Recovery Fund should attain its key interventions for: 1) Jobs (protecting employment where possible and providing new employment opportunities); 2) Stability (stabilizing living conditions and consumption levels; and 3) Sustainability (positioning opportunities for a long-term growth).
CESTRAR exhorts the GoR and its key partners to expand its current reach on the national Social Protection Response and Recovery Plan to COVID-19 (SPRRP), built around the existing government’s social protection framework.
CESTRAR affirms that skills transfer will be crucial to navigating out of the economic crisis. Thus it encourages the GoR and its key partners to provide additional skills and initial equipment allowing risk-prone households to tap into alternative sources of income.
As working virtually continues to be the norm for many workers, CESTRAR invites the GoR and its key partners to ensure that access to basic services are availed to them. This includes providing access to education, health and shelter for vulnerable and most affected households.
CESTRAR reminds the GoR and its key partners that, while the SPRRP to COVID-19 is built on Social Protection Systems, there is need to recognize that most of the community members are farmers, at subsistence and commercial levels. There is therefore a strong need to recognize that the immediate need of the beneficiaries remains their daily food. The GoR ought to ensure that food producers are not experiencing limited market supply.
To safeguard workers and their families’ subsistence during the next farming cycle, CESTRAR notes that the response mechanism should consider the need for coherence between food security, agriculture and social protection through: 1) increased cash transfers resulting in increased purchasing power to cope, on the short and long term, with the increased price level for many stable foods and to increased food consumption, and 2) further support to agriculture production by increasing the ability to purchase required inputs (seeds, fertilizer, labour).
CESTRAR works with trade unions to assess the possibility of establishing a job loss and/or unemployment benefit scheme, and to put in a place a mechanism of building confidence through trust and social dialogue between all key partners.
To safeguard business continuity and stimulate demand, CESTRAR calls on the GoR and its partners to encourage expanding business linkages wherein large, formal business structures work with small, informal business units, as their outlets create a network of wholesalers and retailers. This includes supporting growing gig economy workers.
CESTRAR invites the GoR and its partners to diversify economic stimulus packages to improve the informal economy working spaces such as markets and communal workshops, in a way that continue to promote social distancing.
CESTRAR will promote government and private sector partnerships that will relaunch business development services and enable operators in the informal sector to strengthen their business structures and undertake the needed shift to emerging economies. By so doing, private sectors will seize new opportunities that arise as a result the crisis. CESTRAR wishes to collaborate with the GoR and its partners to promote the necessary upskilling and reskilling, including in digital economy, access to new knowledge and technologies, as well as fostering business linkages within the East African Community, AfCFTA and beyond.