The Botswana diamond sector – which is the mainstay of the country’s economy- is violating the state of emergency retrenchments moratorium and has so far shed close to 300 jobs. The massive job hemorrhage comes at a time when jobs are protected during the six-month state of emergency declared by President Mokgweetsi Masisi and endorsed by parliament. Sunday Standard can reveal that hundreds of employees were last week uncertain of their future as diamond polishing companies continue to shed hundreds of jobs. According to a report by IndustriALL Global Union its affiliate, the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWU) has recorded in excess of 277 job losses in Botswana diamond cutting and polishing sector amid coronavirus.
The report states that cutting and polishing companies in Botswana among them Yerushalmi Brothers Diamonds, Motiganz Botswana, Dalumi Diamonds, Leo Schachter Diamonds, and Signet Jewellers have dismissed staff.Immediate comment from the companies was not available as phones rang unanswered on Friday.The report states that 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.The report shows that over 51 workers have been retrenched at Signet Jewellers since March with Covid-19 cited as the reason for the retrenchments.
In some instances, the companies refuse to disclose the reasons, the report states.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 report also indicate that diamond sector is plagued by low wages; workers are paid from 1300-3500 Pula (US$113-303) per month.The report cites the BDWU as saying 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,” the report says.
On 21 February, the report says, BDWU met with the Minister of employment, labour productivity and skills development Mpho Balopi, and the Commissioner of labour Goitseone Kokorwe, who promised to assist. The report says, hhowever, there has since been no further communication from government.BDWU vice chairperson Dominic Obusitse Mapoka confirmed in an interview with the Sunday Standard that they have since taken up the plights of diamond sector workers with IndustriALL Global Union after efforts to engage authorities in Botswana bore little success.“We have since established that the reason why some cutting and polishing in the diamond sector exploit and fire employees willy nilly is because some government officials have beneficial interests in those companies,” he said.
Mapoka also confirmed that his union was able to halt some looming retrenchments.“The management of these companies have inside information and prior to the State of Emergency they were aware of what was going to happened hence they started to claim that their decision to retrench employees was not as a result of coronavirus,” he said. He said the union experts more employees to be retrenched.“Since last year we have tried to engage the Office of the President and Minister Balopi but to no avail. The situation is getting worse now as companies want to maintain profit amid coronavirus,” he said.
According to a document seen by Sunday Standard, BDWU states that its employees’ members have been subjected to human rights violations by polishing and diamond cutting companies in the country. The union accuses government of giving false impression about the status of diamond workers in the country.“So far 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 Union has already registered some of these cases before Labour department and industrial court as the companies refused to avail reasons that led to retrenchments,” the union stated.