- Strikers in Botswana's Debswana diamond mines have been sacked and subsequently evicted from their company-owned homes. The diamond miners are now striking on their ninth day. Over the last days, a total of 444 workers have been sacked because of the strike. The high pressure on workers has caused some going back to work.
Evictions from the mine workers' homes started during the last 24 hours as a new and more forceful pressure against the trade unionists, allegedly organising an illegal strike in Botswana's main economic sector.
Nevertheless, and against the backdrop of mass dismissals and forced eviction, workers at Botswana's Debswana diamond mines today entered the ninth day of their strike to protest against large wage inequality and alleged discrimination against trade union members at the mines.
In just 9 days, a total of 444 workers have been dismissed for exercising their right to strike. Trade unions, national and international, are furious. According to the unionists, "this contradicts the Botswana government's ratification of International Labour Organisation Conventions 87 and 98 on the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining."
The Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU), the country's leading trade union, called on workers to strike after salary negotiations broke down nine days ago. According to a 6 August court ruling and announcements by President Festus Mogae, the strike was illegal, but most union members nevertheless joined the strike, paralysing most of Botswana's diamond mines.
Batswana employers have however plaid a tough game to avoid giving in to the strikers' claims. Mass dismissals of the mostly unskilled miners have now reached 444 workers and dismissals are followed by forced evictions from the company-owned housings. Family members also reside in most workers' homes.
According to reports from the independent Batswana daily 'Mmegi', the strong pressure from the mine owners is already producing results. The Orapa mine, part of the Debswana diamond mines, has already resumed full operations. The company had recalled "retired and former employees on short-term contracts" to restore three shifts at Orapa.
According to (BMWU), the strike could have "severe ramifications on the welfare of the unionised workers as well as on the diamond production industry as a whole," which forms more than two thirds of the country's exports.
Striking workers at the Debswana diamond mines, as members of the BMWU, are calling for higher pay increases and bonuses already offered to salaried workers at the mines. Debswana is the leading diamond producer in the world by value and is co-owned by the multinational De Beers and the Batswana government.
The harsh methods employed by the mining companies have caused protests from the BMWU and its international partners. The International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) today protested to Botswana's President Mogae about "the unfair dismissals and the government's declaration that the mass strike is 'illegal'." BMWU is seeking a court ruling against the government decision to declare the strike illegal and for the immediate reinstatement of all dismissed workers.
According to the ICFTU, the ongoing eviction of miners from their homes "could have serious social consequences on the stability of the region." The international grouping of trade unions holds that these actions are contradicting Botswana's international commitments.
- Replacement workers without a proper grasp of health and safety in the mines are now being drafted to work alongside miners in Debswana who opted not to strike, ICFTU warns. "They are exposed to exhausting working schedules and severely understaffed. Lapses in health and safety have reportedly led to 2 deaths and a higher rate of accidents in the last few days alone."
According to ICFTU sources, worker resolve has now strengthened to the point that mine workers are now calling for the full reinstatement of all 444 dismissed workers, alongside to pay increases, and refuse to break up the strike until this actually happens. Trade union organisations from across the world have started to make representations to the President of Botswana calling on him to personally intervene and end the conflict that may otherwise adversely affect the image of the country in international circles.
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