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Dialogue needed to save diamond polishing jobs in Botswana

21 May, 2015IndustriALL affiliate Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU) calls for social dialogue after worrying job losses in the in the diamond cutting and polishing sector.

Two companies, Teemane Manufacturing Company and Diamond Manufacturing Botswana, are toclose their operations and shedding about 300 jobs. This follows recent layoffs in two other companies, Leo Schachter and Eorostar Botswana.

The companies have operated in Botswana for years but now claim to be unable to compete with lower costs of cutting and polishing diamonds in Asia. One of BDWU’s major concerns is that cutting and polishing companies in Botswana are obligated to buy only from DeBeers in order to retain their licences, meaning that DeBeers can set the price. As most of these companies have operations in other parts of the world they can easily shift production when supply price in Botswana exceeds what they can source elsewhere.

The BDWU is petitioning the government to set up an industrial bargaining council. The government has so far refused and there is a lack of support from the employers.

The BDWU says in a press statement that the governement is both regulator and businessman: “Government has active and major interests right from the mining of diamonds, through to the sorting and valuing of diamonds. By virtue of its business involvement in the industry, government is severely constrained to exercises its regulatory role.”

BDWU says that they are excluded from discussions between employers and government and are only informed once the decision to retrench has been taken. The union is calling for the setup of a social dialogue forum for the sector. 

“A lot of problems could have been avoided if the industry partners were open to social dialogue and sharing important information pertaining to the industry,” says the BDWU.

Government should have long played a leading role in this arrangement by creating a forum at which labour, business, and government come together to address issues pertaining to the sector.

The union also wants the Botswana government to develop an empowerment policy for local diamond entrepreneurs with the hope that local participation in the industry may engender greater commitment than that of multinational companies to the sustainability of the sector.