How is it to be a working women in Burundi, by Callixte Nkurunziza


Introduction and background

Since the year of 2013, Association of Employers of Burundi signed a convention of cooperation with Wageindicator Foundation. Each party in convention undertook to respect its obligations according to the entire content. The above convention was based on the  project “Mon Salaire” and thereafter extended to “Social Dialogue Project” whose main objective was to promote better work conditions as well as decent wage and that through social dialogue between employers and workers. In terms of implementation of the cooperation convention, the activities carried out included among others the collection and publication of existing labour regulations and collective agreements as well as the dissemination of information on the existence of wageindicator webe site. This contributed to identification by coordination team of the project and some of our members of good examples of regulations on some matters that should be referred to for improvement of our labour market rules.

The summer course of August 2016 organized by Wageindicator last July 2016 endowed us new skills that are most useful to identify and build Collective agreements that could serve as sample by touching the important matters of labour market and providing for better work conditions on envied level. The course exposed also topics that should help to deepen the self documentation of the project national managers, make their own research and analysis to share experience on how good are their respective regulations in comparison with what is done overseas. This approach should also help to identify the main gaps of participants’ respective regulations on different areas of the labour market.

As Burundi has since the year of 2016 began the project of reviewing its labour Law, The topic: “How is it to be a working woman in Burundi” has kept the attention of its team during the course above mentioned because it was found very interesting to be deeply analyzed in order to see what should be put in the labour law under revision to improve the provisions that talk about treatment of women workers.

The research on this topic will focus on identification and description provisions that provide for employment of women workers, and analyzing the main gaps that exist in the national labour regulation and collective agreements into force. The information provided by the wageindicator web site shall also be used to check how other countries handle such kind of issues.

The two results will lead to the proposal of solution that should be used to inspire the technical team that is working on the revision of labour Law.


Burundi is French speaking country that was successfully colonized by Germany and Belgium since 6th Jun 1903 to 1st July 1964 date of its independence. It has thus inherited the legal system of Civil Law. Burundi is member of different regional organization whose members are of mixed cultures that means French speaking and English speaking countries. Its current integration in East African Community   (EAC) reveals some gaps in its labour market regulation. The EAC protocol on common market provides for free movement of workers in the region which requires the harmonization of legislation to guarantee the similar work conditions in all EAC partners’ states. However, the difference of history of each country is a critical obstacle that shall be handled progressively. As member of civil law legal system, the labour market of Burundi is mainly regulated by the Labour Code and its application measures. The number of collective agreement is thus limited.

The absence of collective agreements culture has a negative effect on the development of the labour market regulation because the collective agreements were supposed to enrich it by providing new improvements which take into consideration the different changes that lead to new requirements of the modern labour market.  The current labour law into force dates of 1993 and contains too many gaps because it provides for the establishment of different institutions such as Sickness and maternity insurance that doesn’t exist so far.

 The issue of employment of women stills has great challenges in Burundi that lead to implicit gender discrimination. 

Adopted methodology

The adopted methodology for this research will be focused on desk documentation.

Depending on the nature of information required, national regulations and collectives agreements will be consulted in comparison with what is being done in different countries that have an approximate economic and political development to Burundi. As member of EAC whose treaty provides for free movement of workers and harmonization of labour laws, EAC partners’ states shall serve as sample.


Employment of Women in Burundi

The labour market regulation of Burundi provides for equal treatment of male and female in employment, promotion, remuneration and at the termination of contract. However, some gaps still observed especially by the lack of some structures provided by the law.

Equality of treatment and maternity benefits

Burundi has ratified the ILO Convention n°100 on the equal treatment and that appears in its legislation where the principle of equal treatment is set as foundation upon which the labour market regulation is based.  The article 6 of the labour Law into force says that: “the law ensures the equality of chance and treatment in employment and at work without any discrimination. It is against any kind of distinction, exclusion or preference based on race, color, religion, gender, political opinion, trade union’s activity, ethnical or social origin, in the matter related to employment, promotion, remuneration and the termination of the contract.” This article illustrates how the issue of gender in labour regulation of Burundi has been mastered. It is completed by the article 301 of the same Law that talks about maternity leave. It says that before being covered by the social security, the female worker in maternity leave is supported by her employer in terms of health care. Furthermore, she is entitled to maternity compensation calculated based on the half monthly salary that she would earned while working.

What should be improved?

Art 3 of the ILO convention n°3 on maternity protection provides that no woman worker is allowed to work beyond 6th week preceding her expected date of confinement and before 6 weeks following the date of giving birth. It says also that no woman worker should be refused upon presentation of relevant document to his employer leave her work at least 6 weeks before the expected date of confinement. In accordance with the ILO convention above mentioned, the Labour Law of Burundi offers good treatment to women workers in principal. However, in terms of maternity benefits, the absence of the maternity benefits scheme in the social security field is a major obstacle to promoting well being of female workers in Burundi. The period of 13 weeks maternity leave is guaranteed by the Law but in fact, the maternity leave length in private sector can be fixed on 4 working weeks (two before and other two after confinement). Fearing to lose the half part of her salary (during maternity leave employer is responsible only for the half salary (article 300 of the Labour Law). The rest is supposed to be supported by the Sickness and maternity insurance which unfortunately didn’t exist.), they keep working as long as possible and leave the job when they feel their efforts off. After giving birth, they also harry to rejoin the job as early as possible.

Gaps to labour Law as causes of women workers discrimination

In the area of social security, the labour law provides that all employers must affiliate their employees to the   Sickness and maternity insurance for the private sector which should be responsible for the maternity benefits. Employers are thus required during maternity period to support the health care of the worker in leave and her family and the payment of only the half salary of the concerned worker. Now, the scheme mentioned above has not yet been created. That situation has a negative impact on both sides: employer and worker. If a woman worker goes in maternity leave, the employer is required to employ another person to replace her and then pay twice (the new employee and the one in maternity leave) which cost a lot to employers. Note also that that situation has a negative implication on the productivity because most of time the new worker doesn’t have good experience.

On the side of employee, the Sickness and maternity insurance was supposed to cover the maternity compensation to complete the half salary paid by employer. That should keep the worker in comfortable conditions and the employer as well because that social security schemes should pay even the new worker in replacement. As the scheme above mentioned doesn’t exist, very few employers accept to bear that risk. Thus in some company, woman workers are not well received. They prefer to employ male or women who have passed the age of giving birth. The female worker in maternity leave is only intiltled to the half salary because other benefits were supposed to be provided by the Sickness and Maternity insurance which didn’t exist.

What inspiration should be earned from other East African Countries

Rwanda is former French speaking country whose history is similar to the Burundi’s one by have been colonized by the same country. They were all under colonization of Belgium and have inherited the same legal system. However, Rwanda seems to offer better treatment of women workers than Burundi. The maternity leave as provided for example by the collective agreement in force at SORWATHE LTD Company is 12 weeks during which the woman worker is entitled to her entire salary.  For a twelve-month period starting from the day on which an infant is born, every employed woman is entitled to a rest period of one (1) hour per day, to allow her to breastfeed the child.

However, if immediately the woman resumes service before 12 weeks of her maternity leave, she shall have the right to a rest period of two (2) hours per day until the end of 12 weeks. The duration length of rest guaranteed to the woman employee after the end of her maternity leave is the same in Burundi.

Besides the small difference of maternity leave duration, the Rwanda labour regulation seems not give any importance on the linkage between maternity benefits and the business development. We shall think how the employer does manage that absence of worker during 12 weeks and continue to pay her entire salary. That situation is comfortable for worker and harmful for employers. We shall then ask the question whether employers feel happy to have a good number of women workers or not.

The Countries from common law family system bring new elements of limit period before which woman employee cannot pretend for maternity leave, the time of production of maternity leave notice and the additional unpaid leave in case of sickness affecting the mother of the baby at the end of maternity leave. A part the common basis upon which those countries fix the length duration of maternity leave, Uganda and Tanzania has established standards which are different from the ones applicable in Burundi and Rwanda. In Tanzania, as provided by the collective agreement into force at African Plantations Kilimanjaro Limited (APKL), the maternity leave duration is 6months during which the woman employ is entitled to her entire salary. By the end of maternity leave, the mother has the right to 2 hours rest per a day to breastfeed the child and that for a period of a year. However, the maternity leave is issued only once in 3 years. This is a very important detail because it makes a certain stability of manpower in the company.

The innovation learnt from Uganda is that  according to the collective agreement  into force at  Uganda F1sh Processors And Exporters Association, In the event of sickness arising out of the delivery and or continued confinement affecting either the mother or the baby and making the other’s return to work inadvisable shall be entitled another four weeks unpaid leave. The maternity leave is 60 working days which is good enough for both employer and workers in terms of its reasonable length. The employer pays the entire salary during the legal maternity leave but in other case like the one mentioned above, the employee shall take care of herself.


The integration of Burundi in EAC requires creating favorable working environment which is comparable to other member’s state of the region. As free movement of Labour is one of main rights guaranteed by the Treaty establishing the EAC as well as the EAC Common Market Protocol, it shouldn’t make sense to attain such situation without harmonization/approximation of labour regulation within partner’s states. As Burundi labour Law is being revised with the aim of going in line with the provisions of the instruments above mentioned, regulation of the issue of employment of women workers must reflect a regional image. Women who are moving to work in different EAC partners states must feel home in terms of female working benefits. The duration of 13 weeks maternity leave deserve de remain in the labour Law of Burundi but because of the absence of the Sickness and Maternity insurance, women employee should be entitled to their entire salary during maternity leave as it is in Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. However, for ne need of fairness, the experience of Tanzania that limits the number of maternity leaves to 1 per 3 year should be applied. The labour law of Burundi will also need to extend the maternity leave to another period of unpaid leave in case of sickness that affects the mother or the baby as it is done in Uganda.


Some explanation:

AEB: Association of Employers of Burundi

COSYBU: Confederation of Trade Unions of Burundi

EAC: East African Employers’ Organization