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Precarious working conditions of diamond cutting and polishing workers in Botswana expose jewellery brands

25 June, 2020Over 277 jobs were recently lost in Botswana’s diamond cutting and polishing sector. IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU), is protesting against the precarious working conditions in the industry.

Companies, including Yerushalmi Brothers Diamonds, Motiganz Botswana, Dalumi Diamonds, Leo Schachter Diamonds, and Signet Jewelers have dismissed staff. At Safdico Botswana, BDWU, successfully challenged the retrenchments resulting in their reversal. The union is also challenging the job losses with the country’s labour department, while some cases have gone to the Industrial Court. Some workers were retrenched because they are union members. In other cases, workers were dismissed after dubious disciplinary actions.

Over 51 workers have been retrenched at Signet Jewelers since March with Covid-19 cited as the reason for the retrenchments. In some instances, the companies refuse to disclose the reasons.

Most employers in Botswana’s diamond cutting and polishing sector use union busting to weaken unions, like encouraging the formation of associations at factories and not recognizing registered unions.

The sector is plagued by low wages; workers are paid from 1300-3500 Pula (US$113-303) per month.

The BDWU says that in addition there is no job security for local workers, with some having been employed for ten years on short term contracts. This makes it hard for the workers to access bank loans as they are considered risky clients and are unable to buy their own homes.

Employers are failing to fulfil training requirements for Batswana, whose contracts say foreign workers should train locals in special skills. Instead, workers are hired to simply do the job.

Dominic Obusitse Mapoka, BDWU vice chairperson, says:

“Despite the industry making huge profits every month, workers are getting paid a pittance. The wages are low, and we want our members to be paid living wages. Local workers should also be trained in special skills that are required in the sector.”

On 21 February, the BDWU met with the Minister of employment, labour productivity and skills development, and the Commissioner of labour, who promised to assist. However, there has since been no further communication from the government.

Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL director for mining, gems, diamonds, ornaments and precious stones, stresses that employers must stop paying starvation wages.

“Workers toil daily cutting and polishing precious diamonds and yet are unable to buy food and other basics because of poor wages. The companies must pay decent wages, respect workers’ rights and labour standards. They must also consult with unions on COVID-19 protocols.”