Diamond workers unhappy with Balopi

SHARE   |   Thursday, 11 June 2020   |   By Joseph Kgamanyane
Mapoka Mapoka

Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU) has decried continuous unfair retrenchments, exploitation and human rights violations subjected to their members by diamond cutting and polishing companies operating in the country.  

The union has since threatened to report the matter to Industrial All, a global union which BDWU affiliates to should both government and the said companies continue failing to address their concerns. The Union’s Deputy Chairperson, Obusitse Mapoka complains that government have been giving international bodies a wrong impression everything is well within the diamond industry as far as employees are concerned. “Last year I was attending an Industry All conference in Tanzania, and the report that was given regarding Botswana is totally different from what is happening on the ground,” Mapoka told The Patriot on Sunday.

“We did not want to object the report and tarnish the country’s image by that time. We thought it was in the best interest of the country if we first engage government with the hope that our concerns can be resolved internally before engaging the global union,” Mapoka said.

Mapoka said they thereafter met with The Minister of Employment, Labour Productivity and Skills Development, Mpho Balopi as well as the Commissioner of Labour, Goitseone Kokorwe whom they say promised to investigate their grievances. Balopi however denies ever engaging with BDWU in detail. According to the Minister, they agreed with the union that they (government) can only engage with them through their federation, Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU).

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“When we met I told them that they should have come with BFTU because we normally talk through federations, and they said BFTU was supposed to come. So they can not expect me to answer issues to a union which is under a federation without engaging us as we have agreed,” Balopi said briefly, indicating that he was still engaged in a meeting.

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However, Mapoka expressed disappointed and shock about Balopi’s response. “Balopi did not say that to us. They said they would investigate and call us. So we have been thinking that the lockdown is the reason why they have not yet called us but now they are changing their stories,” said Mapoka, disappointed. He made it clear that the federation does not speak on their behalf adding that as a structure they do not need to go to a federation to engage government over their concerns.

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Union’s grievance

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According to Mapoka, a total of 277 employees have already been retrenched unfairly between 2019 up to June this year by the diamond cutting and polishing companies. The Deputy Chairperson noted that they have already registered some of these cases before the Industrial Court as the companies refused to avail reasons that led to the retrenchments. Mapoka also complained that some employees have been retrenched unfairly either for associating themselves with the union or due to disciplinary actions that were also unfair. The trend is said to be influenced by the formation of an Association of these factories which reportedly strongly disapproves and does not recognise workers’ union. “Majority of people who have been retrenched are union members,” Mapoka claimed.

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The union has also called upon government to look into the wage rate of the diamond cutting and polishing sector complaining about low salaries. Most of the local employees are reportedly paid P1300 as basic salaries with the highest amount being P2000. “Despite the industry making huge profits every month their employees on the other hand are getting a little out of these profits. The rates are very low and our believe is that our members should not be paid with the rates used in the manufacturing sector,” Mapoka complained. 

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The union is also complaining about the job security of their members lamenting that locals are usually employed on short time contracts renewed mostly after every year. The union’s concern is that the setup makes it hard for the locals to improve their lives, secure loans from banks as they are regarded as risky clients.

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Another concern is the issue of localising positions with the union arguing that certain positions within the industry should be reserved to deserving Batswana instead of giving majority of those to expatriates. Mapoka highlighted that in certain companies there are lot of Indians doing the same jobs that can be done by Batswana. “One of the companies has a number of expatriates surpassing that of Batswana and these foreigners are there to work not to train the locals as the companies usually claims.”