More hours for Botswana's diamond sorters

November 25, 2015, 6:33pm

By Mbongeni Mguni, Mmegi. Photo: Mmegi

Workers in the local diamond cutting and polishing sector are set to work more days a year and longer hours, as part of efforts by government and companies to enhance productivity in the sector and compete with Asian rivals. 

The news comes as workers in the sector continue in uncertainty, after market stress this year cost them at least 1,000 jobs.

At its peak, the industry employed 3,700 but this year alone, Moti Ganz, Leo Schachter, Eurostar, Shrenuj, Safdico, Zebra, Dalumni, Tiffany’s and Teemane have all shed large numbers of jobs due to an oversupply of diamonds set against flat demand.

Addressing a De Beers conference yesterday, Minerals, Energy and Water Resources minister, Kitso Mokaila explained that the new productivity plans were the recommendations of a task team he put together to study the industry and enhance its sustainability.

The task team was made up of representatives from government, the industry and De Beers.

“The taskforce handed over the report to me in June and we have already moved on to implement some of the recommendations, which are within our means to implement,” Mokaila said.

“Government has committed to assist the industry to, in the short to medium term, address issues of productivity through working more days and longer hours to move closer to our Asian competitors.

“This will result in improving from an average of 212 working days per annum to something closer to 283.”

Another recommendation which government is implementing is the suspension of the training levy for the struggling diamond cutting and polishing sector.

Industry experts yesterday told Mmegi that the new initiatives on productivity were designed to ensure the diamond cutting and polishing industry’s sustainability even after local diamond mines have closed.

“The industry should be able to stand by itself and compete with cutting and polishing centres in China and India, which are known to be highly aggressive,” a senior official within the diamond production sector said.

“When the diamonds in Botswana run out, mines around the world must find a reason to send their stones to be polished here. The major factor that is working against Botswana at the moment is productivity. That’s where the Asians are beating Botswana hands down.”

According to the official, workers in cutting and polishing factories in India and China have a standard six-day week and far longer hours than their counterparts in Botswana.

“The laws here provides room to expand the work days to 283 and the hours as well, but it is simply not being implemented.

With government now on board, the cutting and polishing firms will move to push this up as well,” the official said.

Mokaila said government would continue to monitor markets and “act responsibly” to help the cutting and polishing firms caught up in the ongoing stress.

Analysts have said while the global cutting and polishing industry is facing difficulties, Botswana firms have been worse hit due to their comparatively higher labour costs set against low productivity.