Diamond Miners Offer To Settle in Botswana

August 26, 2004

Diamond Miners Offer To Settle in Botswana

Union leaders representing 6,000 diamond miners in Botswana offered to end a four-day strike on Aug. 25 if the Debswana mining company dropped court action against them and rehired fired workers, according to Agence France Presse. Thousands of workers in the four mines went on strike on Monday, defying a court order declaring the work stoppage illegal in Botswana, the world's leading producer of uncut diamonds.

"We are discussing, through our respective lawyers, the possibility of settling this out of court," says spokesman Jack Tlhagale of the Botswana Mining Workers Union. Tlhagale says the union wanted Debswana, a 50/50 partnership between the government and the De Beers group, to drop legal action against some 35 union leaders for contempt of court. He also demanded that Debswana reinstate dismissed workers and put back on the table its offer of a 10% wage increase and a 10% annual bonus. The union has been pressing for a 16% wage increase and a 25% annual bonus.

"Debswana management can see that production is suffering and the economic implications are going to be devastating. These are the conditions that we are calling for," says Thlagane. "The strike continues anyway at all the mines. We will ask them to stop once our conditions have been satisfied." Debswana spokesman Jacob Sesinyi denied production had been affected, saying mines were running at 90% of normal capacity.

Sesinyi says his company wants to pursue the court case and that workers who have been fired as a result of the illegal strike would not be rehired. "Those who got letters of dismissal knew what was coming. You engage in an illegal strike, you get fired, that's the law," says Sesinyi. Botswana's industrial court ruled on Aug. 6 that a strike by the diamond miners would be illegal as certain procedures in the bargaining process had not been followed and no agreement on ensuring essential services at the mines had been reached.

Botswana is the world's largest producer of uncut diamonds, with production in 2003 reaching a record 30.4 million carats, amounting to 69% of the total De Beers output. Striking workers at Orapa, Botswana's oldest diamond mine, complained earlier this week they were getting paid "peanuts" for their labor when compared to management. The diamond industry Botswana's leading foreign currency earner, providing 75% of its income.

by Peggy Jo Donahue

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