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Diamond workers decry abuse, low wages

SHARE   |   Wednesday, 18 September 2019   |   By Cde George Rantshilwane
A diamond sorter at work A diamond sorter at work

BDWU is a National body representing and organising all workers in the Diamond, Jewellery precious and semi-precious stone industries as per our constitution founded in 1986 with different great leaders like the late Comrade Matlhabaphiri, Comrade Baipedi, Comrade Lesetedi, Comrade Mabengane, Comrade Motiki, Comrade Barulaganye and many others. The Union was formed by BDVC employees, which is now (DTCB), and at the time it was known as Botswana Diamond Sorters and Valuators Union (BDSVU).

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After 10 years we started Organising Cutting and Polishing Companies, the first companies to be recruited into this union being TMC in Serowe, Schachter in Molepolole, DMB and Eurostar in Gaborone Broadhurst industrial followed by other companies within the industry. After successfully re-organising majority of them, that is when we started to develop a new constitution with a new name called Botswana Diamond Workers Union which was registered around 2011. The Union is one of the affiliates of Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU) in Botswana and internationally affiliated at IndustriAll Global Union. We currently organise in 12 companies, namely: Diamond Trading Company Botswana (DTCB);  Signet Direct Diamond  Sourcing (SDDS) Botswana; Dalumi Diamonds Botswana ; Leo-Schachter Botswana; Pluczenik Diamonds Botswana; Laurelton Diamonds Botswana; Yerushalmi Diamonds Bros Botswana; Zebra Diamonds Botswana; Safdico Diamonds Botswana; KGK Diamonds Botswana; M Suresh Diamonds Botswana; Motiganz Diamonds Botswana.

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We expect this number to increase as we have unorganised diamond and polishing factories in Botswana through our recruitment if the employers will open the doors for us.

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Government’s economic vision is to drive job creation and derive maximum return from the use of the country’s resources, so that value can be added through local skills and expertise. This can be achieved by facilitating diamond cutting and polishing companies to set up factories in Botswana. Government has a good economic strategy which we applaud. It is evident that more jobs can be created but the question is; are we benefiting from these jobs that have been created in the diamond cutting and polishing industry?  If the argument is that the industry is still new and growing, the other question will be; are there signs of improvement or is there progress in meeting the Government’s goal of beneficiation?

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Challenges

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       Wages rate for Diamond Cutting and Polishing: We call upon our Government to look in to the wage rate of the diamond cutting and polishing sector. The rate is very low and we feel that the rate used in the manufacturing sector should not be used in our industries as our industries are unique Diamond cutting and polishing industries are making huge profits every month and workers are get little out of these profits (some of these industries are still paying P1, 300 basic salary).

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       In beneficiation, only three parties, (DeBeers , Government and Investors) are benefiting and the other party (which is us polishers and sorters) do not benefit from polishing hundred thousand of US Dollars worth of diamonds every month. We feel we are being exploited; we are slaves rather than Employees by these companies and not getting value for our work and natural resources.

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       Training and Localization : We have followed all the steps necessary to raise our concerns with relevant Government departments and authorities but nothing has improved and now we demand the Government to do the following on the localization plan to make sure that the positions are given to deserving Batswana who are ready to take them.

       In some polishing factories, good workers who are supposed to take up certain position from expatriates have been dismissed so that when asked by the Authorities why local workers cannot take up that certain position; the company will have a “good” reason why local workers cannot take up certain position yet.

       We are also aware that the Government has been told by these companies that they have Monitors who will take up supervisors positions once they are ready, but these are ghost Monitors and believe is that if the Government does not make a follow up on its strategies that it has set, we are going to see more expatriates coming in large numbers in the country to take positions or works that are supposed to be for local workers, at the same time benefiting what was meant for Batswana.

       Bad labour practises are still being experienced on this matter, e.g, one of the companies KGK Diamonds has an equivalent number of expatriates to Batswana around 70 against 110 these record was from the last case on June 2019.Leo Schachter, Yerushalmi and safdico diamonds Botswana are even refusing to discuss this issues with the Union(training and localisation plan).

       Working conditions that are not supportive to performance of local workers: We are pleading that Ministries and relevant Department take serious action against factories that are deliberately not meeting the health and safety requirements/standards and also make sure that the right health and safety equipments are used for the workers sake.

       We call on Ministry to look on issues that affect human rights which are being violated, victimization is a practice largely felt in some of companies, where you are dictated when to use the restrooms/toilets, the dust, equipment and chemicals used are not up to acceptable health standards. The movement is restricted and to make matters worse we are confined in these premises the whole day with no access to the outside world, no use of cell phones whatsoever, some of our Union representative  have being dismissed/became victims because of questioning some of challenges in workplace.

       We request your Ministry to look  and set security policies that are not biased and that can control the movement of diamonds within companies, e.g, other companies are operating within other companies and without any agreement or /and proper consultation or compensation to the workers.

        Right now we are feeling a strong hardship in one of our factories because of retrenchment with a short notice and without package; Companies like Schachter retrenched 46 employees, Dalumi 28 employees. Yerushlmi still on consultations.Companies like Motiganz ,Safdico,Pluzcenik are keeping workers at home and only work 3days in a week or on shifts, we demand an answer to this

       Eurostar, DMB and TMC is closed. These companies has been operating in Botswana for around 15 years, it has been struggling for almost years without doing well but we didn’t see the government effort in these hard conditions, on this industries against the citizen of this country. As the Government, how do you assist industry like this one in order to secure employment before they closed the factories? Right now most of employees are at home, we don’t know what will be the next, other companies the legations sores that there ship rave diamonds how truthfully is?

        There is no job security. Locals are employed on short time contracts, renewed conditionally /yearly  and for some it has been 10years of this practices e.g. in companies like Yerushalmi, Dalumi and KGK Diamonds to mention but a few, which make it hard to them to improve their lives, secure loans from banks it looks like is a risk industry or even to buy furniture .

       Employees are being dismissed unfairly due to disciplinary actions that are also unfair (this year only more than15 Employees because of joining Trade Union). The unfair dismissals start from the disciplinary actions taken against Employees such as warning letters that are given unfairly. Expatriate supervisors will use their own languages in front of the Employees and after their conversation a warning issued without given the chance to talk or defend him/her.

        The Government is aware of this many cases in the diamond polishing and cutting industry that are reported at Labour offices and this disturbing issues never given positive responses. This also includes the issue of unfair retrenchments. This trend is influenced by the formation of an Association of these factories which strongly disapproves Trade Unionism. Then the question is; are you creating permanent employment or piece jobs for Batswana in Diamond Industry?

       The company owners do not grant the Union recognition in the workplace and there is nowhere else we can challenge these acts even though facing challenges at these factories of owners who are exploiting, not following standards and laws Governing the country and conditions of works. It gives these Companies an upper hand to deny the workers freedom of association to negotiate and even table issues at their factories.

       Human rights violation: Rest periods are usually determined by Employers, annual leave days are manipulated and the Company shut-down using these days. No worker is allowed to use his leave to his favour and only rest at the Employers discretion. There have been instances of human rights violation where Management of these companies would require the Employees to produce their medical cards as proof and they even go to an extent of calling and challenging the Doctors prescribed sick offs eg KGK, Dalumi, Yerushalmi, Leo Schachter Diamonds, and M-Suresh.

       Recycling of board members

We are questioning how board members are appointed. We have noted a trend of recycling members from one ministry to the other. We want people who have known how of our industry to get this positions. This board members end up treating differing sectors the same way and not considering their varying factors.

       Department of Labour: all in above in most disputes procedural our finger point the department of labour even the way they handle our dispute. In most cases they give the respondents more attention to play around with our issues until feather notice.  

We are grateful for today’s meeting and hoping for more consultative dialogues in the future as we work hard to enhance the value of a Motswana. We trust that all that has been presented above will be looked in to and given attention because our mission is to promote the good relationship between the employer and the employees like we already see in one of these companies.

 

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*Rantshilwane is the President of Botswana Diamond Workers Union. He was speaking in Mogoditshane on the 14TH September 2019 at the inaugural conference    



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