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Rwandan journalists grapple with unmet promises in the workplace

Published on: 7-05-2014

A watchman guarding a palatial home, and is witness to the opulent lifestyle his boss lives but retires home hungry month after month is a recipe for disaster.

In the same vein, if a person entrusted with watching over the affairs of society is tossed from one media house to another without pay, then disaster sets in.

Yet this is the plight of quite a number of average journalists in Rwanda.

Theoneste Nisingizwe worked with a local radio station in Kigali where he had a two-year contract.

But after being paid for the first year, the pay became irregular and sometimes he could go for as long as three months without a salary.

With eight months to go before the expiry of his contract, Nisingizwe, whose bills were piling, opted to go to court. The case is yet to be resolved.

The ILO Protection of Wages Convention 95 is yet to be ratified by Rwanda. This Convention aims to guarantee the payment of wages in full and in a timely manner. That wages shall be paid in legal tender at regular intervals.

Contacted for a comment, Alexander Twahirwa, the director labour administration at the Ministry of Public Service and Labour, admits that Convention 95 is not among the bills in the pipeline.

The current study to assess which conventions Rwanda will ratify includes occupational safety, labour administration and private employment agencies.

This is because the country takes these conventions to be more urgent. For starters, Twahirwa says any organisation with more than 30 employees and above should by law have one delegate (employee) who intervenes in times of conflict.

If unresolved, the aggrieved party can employ the services of a labour inspector at each district.

Should the matter go beyond the labour inspector’s intervention, it is forwarded to a labour court.

Twahirwa says the chain doesn’t end there. There are two chief labour inspectors at the ministry who receive complaints from the district labour inspectors.

Further, there is the National Labour Council whose mandate is to resolve litigation emanating from unresolved cases from the chief labour inspector. It is in this regard that Twahirwa views the convention as not being urgent.

In regard to the media, he says the complainants have the Rwanda Media Commission (RMC) to complain to.

Luke Ibrahim Karema, the Media Freedom and Legal Affairs specialist of RMC, said his body is not mandated to handle wage disputes but rather to protect the rights of both the journalists and the public.

They have received complaints but have always referred them to the courts in case of failure to reach an amicable solution. Karema says the Association of Rwandan Journalists (ARJ) is mandated to handle these disputes.

However, Gonzaga Muganwa, the Executive Secretary of ARJ, says he receives complaints of non-payment but his association cannot arbitrate as it will be a conflict of interest since both employees and employers are members.

He doesn’t see the problem of non-payment of wages going away soon because most journalists accept to work as interns pending confirmation.

“This blindfolds the employee and by the time they realise that they are being exploited, they are sacked and replaced with another intern, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle of disgruntled journalists,” Muganwa says.

“Without a contract, there is nothing the ministry or the courts can do to resolve such conflicts,” Twahirwa says.

His words are echoed by Muganwa who says the business environment in the local media has to improve if the situation is to be resolved.

Muganwa has called on employers to respect Article 27 of the Code of Ethics governing media practice in Rwanda which states that journalists are entitled to a contract and remuneration proportional to their social role.

A journalist who preferred anonymity says she worked for a local radio station which refused to give her a contract.

She reported her employer to RMC, the National Council for Human Rights, and the Association of Rwanda Female Journalists (ARFEM) but her case remains unresolved.

Indeed four cases were reported to ARFEM, two of which have been resolved. Faith Mbabazi, the chairperson of ARFEM, says the other two have been referred to RMC.

Published by The New Times

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