Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Diamond cutters must demonstrate greater maturity in dealing with trade unions

This week a respected Israeli diamond consultant, Chaim EvenÔÇôZohar, writes that “Botswana is sabotaging diamond beneficiation.”

Even-Zohar takes a swipe at the trade union movement for poisoning industrial relations at the newly set up diamond cutting firms.

This is totally unfortunate.
Not only is Even-Zohar’s article uninformed, it has in it traces that border on racism.

Somewhere in the article Even-Zohar says relations between the diamond cutting firms and trade unions are poisoned.
Nothing is further from the truth.
First, we have serious suspicions that Even-Zohar has been planted by diamond cutting firms to put pressure on the government of Botswana so as to make further concessions to them against the employees.

Even-Zohar writes that the tactics by the unions in Botswana are “particularly distasteful.”

This is a very serious charge, especially when made without giving unions a chance to say their side.
What we find “particularly distasteful” is a respectable person of Even-Zohar’s standing to allow himself to be used like a hired gun to churn out untruths and unbalanced stories meant to spread unnecessary and unfounded panic and unrest in an infant industry that has the potential to reward Botswana for all the lost opportunities from the country’s diamond industry over the years.

Our other suspicion is that other than their desire to pay sweat shop wages, cutting firms have now engaged Even-Zohar to help them force the government and De Beers to give them even bigger preferential treatment and award them further concessions.
That is not only regrettable but unethical.

Many companies that have been in Botswana would be surprised to learn from Even-Zohar and his handlers that trade unions here have been showing some elements of militancy.

Our knowledge of the culture of trade unions in Botswana is that not only do the trade unions in Botswana lack the capacity to effectively articulate their members’ interests, over the years. members have actually accused the leadership of being corporatist in their approaches to fighting the workers’ corner.

Botswana’s trade union movement is barely militant.

Our trade unions have, to a large extent, supported the government’s investment strategy.

If anything, the movement is docile and in many ways led by people holding views that are not very divergent from those of the government.

It has happened that in the course of their careers, leading trade unionists not only became members of the ruling party, but went as far as to become cabinet ministers.

Thus, our view is that what has the potential to poison the relations inside the diamond cutting firms is Even-Zohar’s unbalanced and acidic article that is clearly sponsored by a number of cutting firms that do not want to resolve what are essentially internal labour relations disputes.

Other than drawing public attention to Even-Zohar’s potentially racist rantings (which can do great damage if not exposed for what they are) we want to call on the government to lift the moratorium currently obtaining on licensing of diamond cutting firms.
The official position has always been that government is setting up infrastructure.

We do not think that is a plausible enough reason.

Licences can be issued in parallel with the developments of infrastructure the Ministry of Minerals is talking about.
Notwithstanding Even-Zohar’s patently unethical article, we want to point out that, generally, there is growing international perception that Batswana are a xenophobic people.

That, of course, is wrong.

Such a perception is, to a large extent, a result of strong feelings among citizens that they have been left out of the mainstream economic activities of their country.

There is a strong feeling (rightly or wrongly) that the country’s wealth has not benefited citizens more.

Such feelings are even more pronounced towards the diamond industry where there are feelings that government enthralled by De Beers took too long to use diamonds to empower citizens; especially by way of creating local diamond cutting firms.

For generations, De Beers said diamond cutting in Botswana was not viable, and the government believed the company line, hook and sinker.

We urge the government to fast-track efforts to involve more Batswana into business.

At the moment, there are very few citizens in business.

If they participate, they do so as workers who are, to a large extent, not only lowly paid but also abused by their expatriate masters, who, in Even-Zohar’s words, can easily tell the “bullshit.”
It would be wrong to say Botswana has a hostile trade union movement led by xenophobics.

If at all there is any growing xenophobia among Batswana, it is a direct result of entrenched feelings among citizens that they have been left out of the economic mainstream.
It is very important for diamond cutters coming into Botswana under the recent agreements between government and De Beers to show a greater sense of maturity.

They also have to understand that whatever the problems of setting up in Botswana, compared to other countries in the region, Botswana’s industrial relations laws are the most flexible.
The same laws are also tilted and skewed in favour of foreign investors much more than any regional country.
Thus, the problem is not the trade unions.

Rather, the problems emanate from the government’s failure to ensure meaningful participation by citizens in the economy of their country and now, from people like Even-Zohar, who deliberately peddle such naked untruths.

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