Everyone loves a public holiday and I’m no different. I mean, who doesn’t want a reason NOT to go to work? Call me lazy, but as you do so remember the old English adage, ‘don’t throw stones if you live in a glass house”. Labour Day is a bit different for me though. It isnt enough for me to loll in bed all day, waking up just to eat. I take some time out of my day to talk to the one person I employ, my househelp. Yesterday I asked her what the biggest issues the average worker had. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out what she said. “Wages”.
Mind you, before you lynch me, I believe that I am a good employer and pay decent wages. Especially when one considers what the going rate for domestic service is. But I think that in itself is the problem. Domestic workers on average receive about fifteen thousand francs a month. Fifteen. That is about the price of a bottle of good wine. And mind you, these men and women often work from dawn to dusk. I’ve asked colleagues at work what they pay their domestic workers, and I’m still to be bested when it comes to wages. I’m not blowing my own trumpet because, truth be told, I still feel quite sheepish whenever I hand over the money. I mean, how can someone possibly live on thirty thousand francs? That is what I call simple pocket money. But somehow she pays rent and utilities, buys food and airtime. All the while raising a young son. That is a miracle on par with turning water into win.
Why don’t I pay her more? Because I’m human and therefore inherently selfish, no matter what I tell myself. Enter the State. It is only the state that can act as a civilising factor. So, let’s look at what the Rwandan state says about wages; luckily for us the state sentiments are hidden in plain sight, in the Labour Code.
The present Code, which was passed by Parliament last year, states in Article 83 that ‘the interprofessional minimum wage is determined by a Decree issued by the Minister having Labour in his/her attributions after consultation with the employees and employers associations’. Guess what? This ministerial decree is still pending and therefore our minimum wage laws are still the ones that were used in Juvenal Habyarimana’s administration. Do you know what the minimum wage was then for someone older than nineteen years of age? One hundred francs a DAY. Sure things might have improved but, according to doingbusiness.org (an International Finance Corporation and World Bank online resource), the minimum monthly wage is $18.5 dollars. That’s absolutely peanuts and we should all be ashamed of this.
We cannot create an equitable society if we don’t protect the very weakest. A proper minimum wage, that factors in inflation and cost of living, will allow everyone to live some semblance of the Rwandan dream. Sure, someone living on minimum wage will not afford to do all their shopping in Nakumatt but then, who can? A fair minimum wage will allow even the poorest to live in some dignity. It doesn’t make sense that someone who earns wages above half a million francs a month then goes home and pays their househelp a wage they cannot live on. How do you expect our lowliest workers to save a little money and improve their lots in life? It is cruel fact that some Rwandans are simply cursed to spend their days in some form of poverty. But this fact can and SHOULD change. Mr. Minister, sign into law a minimum wage decree that doesn’t make poverty a yoke that cannot be extricated. Fair wages for an honest day’s work I say.