Workers in the diamond cutting and polishing industry have alleged that they have been tortured by the police whenever diamonds go missing.
In a strongly worded petition handed over to the management of Signet Direct Diamond Sourcing Limited (SDDS) in Gaborone on Friday, the Botswana Diamond Workers Union (BDWS) states that security of the diamonds inside SDSS Botswana is a thorny issue that remains unaddressed by the top management.
“We are tired of a situation whereby our members are frequently handed over to the police service like sacrificial lambs only to be probed and tortured unnecessarily over missing diamonds, thereafter released and fired by the senior staff,” reads the petition.
BDWS called on the SDSS board of directors “to demonstrate genuine concern towards the welfare of employees by engaging the Union in meaningful negotiations, responding promptly to employee’s grievances and by cleaning up the mess that is going on inside the factory.”
Responding to Sunday Standard queries, SDDS Vice President David Bouffard said “We recognize and respect the agreement we have with the Botswana Diamond Workers Union and take any and all grievances seriously. True to our commitment of taking our employees’ concerns seriously, we are working hand in hand with the Botswana Diamond Workers Union in addressing some of the key challenges raised.”
“We are actively investigating and addressing all the issues that have been presented to us by the union. We also expect our team members to cooperate with the local police department regarding security matters, just as we do,” he said.
Bouffard added that “Whilst this is an ongoing process, we have since been able to address immediate welfare issues as well as improve our security details given the sensitivity of our operations.”
According to the petition, grievances by employees and the Union are many and warrant serious attention. The Union says it has long contended that there is need to set up a team of local managers to manage the daily affairs of the company “as opposed to the present arrangement whereby the company is managed from overseas.”
“Even matters as simple as conducting disciplinary hearing are done through teleconference by the Head Officer,” said BDWS.
It said the report that it received from the employees about “what is going on inside the factory are heart breaking.”
“For example employees have reported to the Union that they are required to first report for duty in the morning to seek permission to go to health facilities regardless of their ill health condition at that point. It is reported that one employee recently collapsed in the morning when she tried to report for duty although she was not fit to come to work,” said the Union.
The Union expressed concern that some employees are required to perform their work whilst standing all day long from January to December every day of the week.
“This kind of practice is tantamount to torture and it may result in employees suffering complicated health conditions. To this practice we say ‘enough is enough’, and stop treating people as if they are machines,” the Union said.
The Union said it has in the “past months emphasized its right to bargain with management on the merit increase but management stated that they were merely consulting the Union although they had earlier agreed to negotiate the merit increase.”
“We have made it clear to management that we are concerned about the formula used to calculate salary increases. Our expectation was that subsequent meetings would be held to negotiate over this matter but only to realise later that management had taken a decision to close the matter,” said the Union.
After the refusal by management to negotiate with the Union over restructuring of wages merit increase and other conditions of service, the union said it has since registered a dispute with the Labour Office.