'Neglected stepchildren' bite back at De Beers

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The Independent Online

A leading union has accused diamond giant De Beers of treating its miners like "neglected stepchildren".

A leading union has accused diamond giant De Beers of treating its miners like "neglected stepchildren".

The International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions, which has 20 million members worldwide, has written to De Beers managing director Gary Ralfe about a continuing dispute with workers in Botswana.

General secretary Fred Higgs said the ICEM would actively support any strike action should an agreement not be forged.

De Beers has a joint venture with the government of Bots- wana called Debswana. The business has four highly developed diamond mines that account for nearly 75 per cent of all Botswana's export earnings.

A wage dispute broke out last month between Debswana and the 6,000 miners who are members of the Botswana Mining Workers' Union (BMWU). The row is centred on what ICEM claims is a small pay and bonus proposal for the miners.

"The proposal presented to the BMWU is far inferior to that awarded to salaried staff, and the bonus offered is minuscule compared to that given top staff," said Mr Higgs in the letter.

"Members of the BMWU at Debswana's mines and operations are largely responsible for the heightened production and continual profitability of this enterprise, yet are treated like neglected stepchildren. It is small wonder miners at Debswana are on the verge of striking."

He urged Mr Ralfe to "use your office" to open face-to-face dialogue with union leaders to avoid action and bring "fairness and equity to miners in Botswana".

But a strike was headed off last month when a Botswana court ruled it would be illegal.

A London spokesman for De Beers said: "Negotiations have been taking place between Debswana and the main workers' unions for some time." He was unable to comment further.

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