SELEBI-PHIKWE: Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU) has called upon Debswana Diamond Company to set aside the three percent wage increase that is due in the 2018-2019 financial year for parties to open fresh negotiations for a decent increment.
BMWU this week held demonstrations in Letlhakane and Jwaneng where it argued that the three percent increment was confined to inflation only while other critical factors, which constitute the actual cost of living were not taken into consideration as emphasis was laid on the then ailing diamond market.
The union further argued that from the third quarter of 2017, the diamond market prices and the demand improved, hence why a significant increase in production was realised in Orapa and Jwaneng mines and the reopening of Damtshaa in the forth quarter of the same year.
It maintains that Debswana management confirmed the significant growth and that diamond market projections continued to indicate positive growth and high demand throughout 2018-2019 and beyond. In their petition to the Debswana managing director Balisi Bonyongo the union said, despite the positive growth, employees on the other hand continued to experience a significant increase of cost of living from the last quarter of 2017 into 2018 as compared to 2016 when the current agreement was formed.
The union, through its secretary general, Moffat Ramokate said that at the time the three percent was offered to the mineworkers, the company claimed that it needed to be accommodated because the diamond market was low.
“However, the Debswana Diamond Company management locked the inflation based on the three percent to three years such that even when the sale of diamonds improved like it has, employees have their hands tied at the back and cannot negotiate a better increase,” the petition stated. It stated that employees are experiencing a downward trend with an erosion of their purchasing power due to a rise in the cost of living and high tax rates despite that the economy of the country and that of the company itself continue to grow.
“We demand that we must be gauged on what we are worth. We cannot continue to be stuck in bygone economic downturns,” Ramokate said in the petition. It added that Debswana management has been pushing to introduce Scannex Full Body Search X-Ray machines at all Debswana operations at a time when there was no law on radiation protection or the radiation protection board.
It said the company persisted and coerced government to make law and later obtain a licence from the radiation protection inspectorate under mysterious circumstances.
“Debswana has gone to the High Court to force government through the Department of Environmental Affairs to pass the Environmental Impact Assessment to enable the use of the machine.
All objections from employees against the installation of the machines in the mines
The union’s concern with the use of the machines is that workers would be subjected to ionising radiation emitted by the machines on a daily basis for the entire period of their stay with Debswana.
They further argued that the technology was developed and marketed and sold by DebTech, a company owned by De Beers and operating as its technical arm.
It said the company cannot be trusted and there is enough space for collusion because of the business partnership. The union also maintained that Debswana management failed to provide empirical evidence to show that diamonds are being stolen to justify introduction of the machines other than extrapolation of information from diamond theft cases, which took place in countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo.
“The decision by management to approach the courts to seek a court order compelling DEA to issue authorisation for installation of Scannex in the mines is a clear indication that the company does not care about its employees, but instead values diamonds. We condemn and call for withdrawal of this as it creates adverse conditions, which were not there when workers joined Debswana,” it read.
The union also calls for reinstatement of annual bonuses and an agreed tool that would be a product of negotiation between parties and said that the tool must be less arbitrary and ensure an equitable sharing of bonus amongst all producers without emphasising only on seniority.
They said the bonus disparity must be stopped.
BMWU also called on Bonyongo to intervene and institute thorough investigation of all incidents of maladministration and abuse of workers and take appropriate action, which should include removal of underperforming managers.
They also said that the recent fatal accident at Jwaneng was due to negligence and demanded diligence and compliance with the safety agreement and mines quarries works and machinery regulations. They said reports of investigations and all accidents including fatalities must be shared with them for transparency and to ensure that parties contribute meaningfully to corrective measures.
“A policy must also be formulated to compel the company to take care of dependants of victims of the accidents and offer them employment in other mines across the borders,” read the petition.
The petition that gave Bonyongo only a month to intervene and detail measures taken to address the situation was received by Lydia Sesinyi and Tshephang Mazwigwila, who are Human Resource senior managers in Orapa and Jwaneng mines, respectively.