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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 August, 2004, 17:16 GMT 18:16 UK
Botswana firm 'dismisses' workers
Diamonds account for half the state's revenues
Botswana's largest diamond mining firm Debswana has sacked workers involved in illegal strike action.

Debswana Diamond Company has sent letters to about 1,000 staff informing them that they have been dismissed, according to the AFP news agency.

About 25% of Debswana's 5,000 strong workforce downed tools on Sunday and Monday in a dispute over pay.

The workers went on strike despite a 6 August court ruling that strike action would be unlawful.

Debswana, which is owned by De Beers and the government, operates four diamond mines.

Court appearance

An official from the Botswanan Mining Workers Union (BMWU) said that union leaders would appear in court on Tuesday to face charges of contempt of court.

"We told them that if they continue to holding illegal strike, then they could face dismissal," Debswana's employee relations manager Jacob Sesinyi told the AFX news agency. "That process has started."

Debswana says it is now talking to the BMWU national executive, after talks with local unions failed.The BMWU's general secretary Donald Lobotse said that the strike was continuing.

"There has still been no response to our offer on Monday to reopen talks at the point where they deadlocked," he said.

At least 1,500 workers failed to clock on, out of 5,400 union members, according to the company's figures. Local union officials have painted a sharply different picture, saying 6,000 workers have downed tools.

The strike forced the temporary closure of two of the firm's major mines - its flagship Jwaneng mine and Letlhakane mine - on Sunday night. One of its smaller mines remains shut.

A truck driver climbs aboard a giant truck at a diamond mine
The company argues that diamond workers are well paid

Diamonds 'crucial'

The diamond industry is crucial for Botswana's economy.

Debswana provides 70% of the southern African country's foreign exchange earnings, half of government revenue and 30% of the country's gross domestic product, according to the firm's website.

The union is demanding a 16% pay rise, and 24% bonus for 2004/5, substantially more than management's offer of 10% in each category.

The firm argues that it is already the highest-paying company in Botswana, and that its overall remuneration package includes free housing and transport, subsidised water, power and schooling and free medical insurance.

"It doesn't happen anywhere else in Botswana apart from Debswana mine, it doesn't even happen in South Africa," the company's spokesman said.

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