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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 September, 2004, 10:18 GMT 11:18 UK
Botswana strikers 'being evicted'
Diamonds account for half of Botswana's revenues
Workers taking part in an illegal strike at Botswana's largest diamond mining firm are being evicted from company-owned homes, unions have said.

The International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU) does not say how many workers have been evicted.

About 444 workers have been dismissed for taking part in the nine-day dispute over pay and bonuses, it said.

The company, Debswana, said 2,300 workers were on strike, but the union said the true figure was nearer 3,000.

Botswana is the world's largest producer of uncut diamonds and Debswana, which is owned by diamond giant De Beers and the Botswana government, operates four diamond mines.

The ICFTU said the evictions were still continuing and were being carried out forcibly. It warned that "such developments could have serious social consequences on the stability of the region".

No one at Debswana was available to comment on the alleged evictions.

The ICFTU also says that replacement workers "without a proper grasp of health and safety" have been drafted into the mines to work alongside those miners that have not opted to strike.

"(Resulting) lapses in health and safety have reportedly led to two deaths and a higher rate of accidents in the last few days," an ICFTU spokeswoman said.

Up in court

The strike has been declared illegal by a Botswana labour tribunal, a judgement which the ICFTU says contravenes the government's ratification of international labour rights.

The Botswana Mining Workers Union (BMWU) is trying to get the government's ruling overturned in the courts.

Separately, 33 of its leaders are to go before a judge on Thursday to face charges of contempt of court for ignoring the ruling and continuing with the strike.

The BMWU says its workers will return to work if the court case against its leaders is dropped and all dismissed staff are rehired.

Debswana, which says that some workers are starting to drift back to work, said all workers must return before any substantial negotiations can take place.

"We are witnessing a number of strikers returning to work," said a Debswana spokesman. "Not in their hundreds, but in their tens."

"This is a very positive development and we call on all our employees not to break the law."

Global shortage?

The strike, which began on 23 August, is about better pay and bonuses.

While the union wants to see a 16% salary increase and a 35% annual bonus, Debswana is offering only a 10% wage rise and a one-off 10% bonus.

So far, the strike has had little impact on world diamond markets.

"The strike will only have an effect if it spreads and continues for at least a month," said Stephane Fischler, the International Diamond Manufacturers' Association (IDMA) general secretary.

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