Saturday, May 28, 2022

Debswana, union at loggerheads over diamond security

Debswana’s zeal to protect its diamonds from theft by subjecting employees to constant x-ray body scanning has sparked residual resistance from the Botswana Mine Workers Union (BMWU).

The union’s resistance to Scannex x-ray machine stems from fears of potential long-term adverse effects on health emanating from prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation BMWU has said.

“Debswana has not ascertained the gene profile of its employees and has not come out clearly to outline what the company would do in the event that employees are affected by the accumulative effects of having been exposed. Our concerns far outweigh the economic reasons advanced by Debswana,” said Jack Tlhagale, President of the BMWU at a press conference this week.

This notwithstanding, Debswana maintains the machine is safe. At any rate, the company says it has held extensive consultations with the BMWU and general employees over the machines at its four operations of Orapa, Letlhakane, Jwaneng and Damtshaa.

“A joint task team made up of Union and Management representatives was formed at the inception of the Scannex project. The BMWU and Management each nominated four (4) representatives into the joint task team that undertook benchmark visits to mines that use Scannex. The joint task team unanimously recommended the use of Scannex at Debswana mines to the Union/Management Joint Negotiation Consultative Committee (JNCC),” said the company’s Corporate Communications Manager Rachel Mothibatsela.

The company’s version is heavily contested by the union’s Tlhagale.

“This issue has not been resolved. We don’t disregard attempts by Debswana to improve diamond security. We support greater security of diamonds but what about the human cost? We are saying that the existing technology of surveillance cameras and physical body searches is adequate,” said Tlhagale.

Debswana begs to differ.

“Physical search methods that we currently use are not capable of detecting diamonds that are hidden within body cavities and yet the common method thieves use to get diamonds out of our mines is through body cavities. The landscape of the diamond industry is significantly changing; with the move of Diamond Trading International (DTCI) from London to Gaborone as well as introduction of diamond cutting centers. Growth in the industry will most likely introduce new threats to diamond security such as syndicates, illegal diamond trafficking and organized criminals, that is why Debswana needs to beef up security,” said Mothibatsela.

The company claims that Scannex machines have not yet been installed at Debswana mines saying it got a conditional approval from the Radiation Protection Board in May 2012.

“We are currently in the process of conducting an environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Scannex project in accordance with the Environmental Assessment Act No. 10 of 2011. Implementation will commence once the EIA is complete. Botswana is heavily dependent on diamond revenues than any other country in the world. One lost diamond is a lost opportunity to send one more child to school; it is one lost opportunity to save another child’s life, in a remote area where there is no access to a hospital,” said Mothibatsela.

Responding to fears of long-term effects of exposure to x-ray radiation, the Debswana spokesperson said: “Scannex technology is a proven, well established technology with comprehensive safety and assurance programmes that have been in use for more than 20 years”.

The company claims Scannex utilises low dosage x-rays, adding that employees will receive a maximum dosage of 1milli Sievert per year from the machine which is within international limits.

The company says the current methods used are inefficient, as such not all stolen diamonds are currently being detected and recovered, hence the need to use Scannex machines to ensure that the country does not lose diamond revenues.

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