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The Diamond Polishers and Uncomfortable Realities

SANDY GRANT
What did you make of it, I wonder? I refer of course, to the seemingly routine report that diamond polishers here will be required to work longer hours for many more days presumably for the same rate of pay and regardless of their signed terms of employment.

Minister Mokaila explained (Mmegi 24.11.15) that he had appointed a Task Force to recommend ways and means by which our polishers could better compete with their counter parts in China and India where costs are lower and productivity higher.

It must, from the onset, have appeared like a very tough ask. Note for instance that our polishers work for an average of 212 days a year. Polishers in both China and India work a six-day week. If they did so for all the 52 weeks of the year they would be putting in a 312 working day year.

Let us assume that they have six public holidays a year and individually can take 10 days holiday as well as enjoying their Sundays which would mean that they work for 297 days a year compared with our 212. But then factor in the longer hours that those Chinese and Indians work.

Let’s assume that they work a 10-hour day compared with our eight and unmentioned, that they enjoy a half-hour lunchbreak compared with ours of an hour, or an hour and a half? 

Then throw in our usual absentee routines, the late Mondays and the early Fridays, the visits to the banks, the Land Boards, the court cases and so on – although those in the diamond industry are unlikely to be such tolerant employers – and the differences are bound to be staggering. 

So what did the Minister’s task force suggest should be done about it? Why, increase the working days from 212 to 283 and increase the hours of the working day from the present, presumably eight, to an unstated figure.

Even with such changes, it is difficult to believe that the Task Force itself, let alone the Minister, could truly believe that the enormous gap would be, in any meaningful way, closed. Nor, unless polishers are highly paid, will the recruitment be made any easier.  Not so long ago this country was one of the poorest in the world, yet it sometimes behaves as if it belongs amongst the world’s richest. We have an extraordinary number of public holidays.

We begin reducing our workload in late November, early December for Xmas/New Year, and start re-grouping in mid-January. Our absenteeism-from-work figures must surely be amongst the highest in the world. 

There is no way that we can compete with the greater productivity and lower costs

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of other people, diamonds or no diamonds. There is little to be gained by pretending otherwise.

How realistic is it, therefore, to seek to improve the productivity of one element of the national work force and ignore the rest? Is it possible that agreeing to one exception will provide the logic for agreeing to another? And then the door will be open for other employers to insist that their workers must perform like the Chinese and Indians.

There is a need for the government to recognise that there are areas, probably many, in which this country has not the slightest chance of internationally competing.

Climatically, it is situated in a tough, dry part of the world which is already getting tougher.  It has no easy access to the sea. It possesses vast reserves of coal which the government has held up as offering our next economic escape route.

It could instead have read the bones, realised that coal producers and coal users are about to be labeled as the destroyers of the planet, accepted that coal production here has only a small future, and claimed the credit for denying itself an opportunity to advance – and then claimed compensation for its supposed act of self denial.

We need to recognise as hard fact those areas where there is no possibility that we can compete. And set them aside. And then to figure out where we might be having a comparative advantage– such as the sun - and then go hard for it.

At the moment, we are wobbling all over the place, spending far too much on un-thought out projects and programmes, and providing insufficient support where support could generate increased momentum. But then we have yet to work out that we are not as stinking rich as we had supposed, nor as poor as we might have feared.

As of now, we are living in a country of much abundance, but one in which thousands of households are routinely without power and water. 

And where entire villages have been left, grotesquely, without water for weeks on end – taking us straight back to pre-Independence days. 

This should never have happened. In retrospect, it’s obvious that we have got a great deal wrong in the past. Now is the chance to put matters right. The opportunities are there. They now need to be seized.



Etcetera II

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