Rwanda’s workers union warns against unfair job layoffs due to COVID-19 concerns

A trader wearing a protective mask weighs grains at the Kimironko market as shoppers stock up on essential items that have been price fixed in order to prevent exploitative prices in Kigali, Rwanda March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Maggie Andresen
A trader wearing a protective mask weighs grains at the Kimironko market as shoppers stock up on essential items that have been price fixed in order to prevent exploitative prices in Kigali, Rwanda March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Maggie Andresen

Rwanda’s leading trade union has cautioned employers against unfairly laying off their employees due to COVID-19 concerns, a union official said Sunday.

“We are concerned of looming massive layoffs of workforce most especially in the private sector where companies are facing unprecedented business challenges due to COVID-19 pandemic,” Africain Biraboneye, deputy secretary general of the Rwanda Workers’ Trade Union Confederation (CESTRAR), told Xinhua in a telephone interview.

COVID-19 is inflicting severe damage on global economies, and the workforce is among the most at risk of being laid off by struggling businesses, he said.

“We are calling on the Rwandan government to come up with an ambitious plan that would help minimize the impact of COVID-19 on workers, their families and the business community,” said Biraboneye.

He urged companies to put in place measures that would keep their businesses in operation without laying off workers.

Biraboneye emphasized that before finalizing layoff plans, companies must hold discussions with CESTRAR and the Rwandan ministry of service and labor representatives to come up with mitigation measures to avoid unfair layoffs.

In March, the Rwandan government imposed a lockdown with restrictions on movements and the closure of borders, public places of worship and education facilities after the first confirmed COVID-19 case was reported. The lockdown has been extended by two more weeks to April 19.

During the lockdown, bars, restaurants and hotels remain closed except those offering takeaways.

Since the announcement of the lockdown, some employees working in Rwanda’s hospitality sector have been asked to take unpaid annual leave until further notice.

Biraboneye slammed hospitality companies for forcing their workers to take unpaid annual leave, saying that they took the decision without being mindful of employees’ welfare and their families.

As of Sunday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Rwanda reached 126. A total of 25 patients have recovered, according to the latest figures released on Sunday by the ministry of health.