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Union win stops unfair retrenchments at Botswana diamond mine

8 May, 2023The Botswana Mine Workers Union’s (BMWU) win in an industrial court on 28 April has stopped unfair retrenchments at Lucara Botswana’s security department at the Karowe diamond mine, the same mine which unearthed “Lesedi la rona” (our light) in 2015 - the largest diamond to be discovered in a century. The mine has also dug three diamonds with over 1,000 carats each and sold “The Constellation”, an 813-carat diamond for a record US$63 million for a rough gem in 2016.

The dispute with the union can be traced to June 2022 when Canadian- based Lucara Diamond Corporation, asked its subsidiary, Lucara Botswana, to investigate allegations of maladministration and unethical business conduct in the security department at Karowe Mine. 

However, the 50 workers who volunteered and provided information as whistle-blowers were given termination letters after they had provided testimonies. BMWU strongly objected to this action resulting in the letters being given only to three workers. The other 47 workers remained at work, and the union argued in court that the termination was unlawful as there were no disciplinary hearings as required by the labour laws. 

Lucara Botswana management hired a South African company, Assurance Protection Group Incorporation, to carry out a security optimization assessment. However, the assessment report was not shared with the union as per labour laws, and the union suspects that the assessment is meant to victimize the 47 workers and to provide grounds for the retrenchments. 

The union petitioned the diamond company and wrote to the Commissioner of Labour on the same grievances and the need for mediation, but the matter was not resolved.

But on 28 April the industrial court in Gaborone ruled that the diamond mining company cannot continue with the retrenchments without negotiating with the union as per existing collective agreement.

Joseph Tsimako, BMWU president says: 

“BMWU enjoyed cordial relations with Lucara Botswana until the union intervened following reports of maladministration. It would have been remiss of the union not to protect whistle blowers against reprisals from Lucara Botswana’s top executives.”

Maenge Maenge, BMWU general secretary, adds: 

“The union, through its collective bargaining structures requested disclosure of both the optimization assessment and investigative reports, neither of which the company availed. Collective bargaining and human and workers’ rights are critical indicators in ESG frameworks against which the performance of a mining operation and the management of potential risks by its executive are gauged. It is apparent that there is a serious deficit in ESG stewardship at Lucara.”

“Lucara Botswana must always consult with the unions and respect existing agreements before deciding to retrench workers. Ignoring existing agreements violate workers and trade union rights to collective bargaining. We applaud BMWU for challenging Lucara’s unilateral decisions in court and welcome the ruling that the diamond mining company must consult and negotiate with the union,”

says Glen Mpufane, IndustriALL mining director.