27 August, 2020With the diamond mines in Lesotho building a reputation for unearthing gem diamonds, unions are saying mineworkers should also benefit from the millions of dollars that the diamonds are fetching on the global market.
On 21 August, Letseng mine owned by Gem Diamonds unearthed a 442-carat rough diamond worth US$18 million. But this is not the first one. In February three gems of 183, 89 and 70 carats worth millions were also dug at the mine. Letseng mine, which is 70 per cent owned by Gem Diamonds and by the Government of Lesotho has unearthed over 60 white gem quality diamonds of over 100 carats each. According to diamond experts, this makes Letseng the highest dollar per carat kimberlite mine in the world.
According to IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Independent Democratic Union of Lesotho (IDUL), Gem Diamonds can afford to pay workers overtime. Hence, the union is challenging the exemptions that were given to Gem Diamonds by the government not to pay overtime, which is normally required by law.
The mine and sub-contracted companies employ over 1,700 workers some of whom are members of IDUL.
Daniel Teko, IDUL general secretary, says:
"The union appreciates that Gem Diamonds recognises the quality of work that the mineworkers are doing at the mine. However, we want to urge the company to go beyond praises and pay living wages.
"Further, the company must address the workers grievances and pay overtime including for work done during public holidays. Most women workers at the mine are being robbed of their overtime and lowly paid wages of Maloti 1,900 (US$113).”
Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director says:
“Mineworkers who dig such valuable gems should earn living wages that improve their lives and those of their families. Diamond mineworkers cannot live in poverty while bringing so much profit to multinational mining companies. Responsible mining entails improving working conditions and paying decent living wages.”
IDUL welcomes the Gem Diamonds’ announcement that some of the proceeds from the sale of the diamond will be used for community development in Letseng.
Diamond mines which are mainly in the Maloti mountain range remained open during the Covid-19 lockdown in the country. However, Firestone’s Liqhobong Diamond mine is temporarily closed citing difficult market conditions, and IDUL is fighting for the benefits of its members who lost their jobs at the mine. The union has also raised compliance issues with Lesotho’s labour laws against Liqhobong on the retrenchments with the country’s labour department.
At Storm Mountain Diamonds, IDUL is demanding that the mining company should provide adequate personal protective equipment to workers in the housekeeping department to protect them from infection with Covid-19.