Hundreds of workers are striking against non-payment of bonuses, for an end to racism, and improved conditions at Sierra Leone’s largest diamond mine in Koidu. Following a blockade of the entrances and clashes with scabs, the armed forces were deployed, who opened fire on the workers, killing two and injuring many others.
The dispute is being reported as the ‘biggest’ to have hit Sierra Leone’s highly lucrative diamond mined for many years. The government have been heavily involved in the industry following the end of the civil war in 2002.
The spark for the strike was the mine owners, Octea, promising a Christmas bonus the equivalent of three months wages, but then at the last minute changing their minds and withdrawing the bonus. Laughably, the bosses claim that the workers are all lying, and that in fact they have been paid the agreed bonus.
The Vice-President and the minerals minster have both personally travelled to the mine to attempt to mediate between the workers and the mine bosses, Octea. The workers let them know what they think of the offer of mediation by bombarding their vehicles with rocks.
Striking miners deny police claims that they shot protesters in self-defence. Following the deaths of the two workers, protesters stormed the local hospital and removed the dead bodies and carried them through the streets, vowing to avenge the killings.
Away from the mine complex a police station was set on fire in retaliation for the killings. A temporary curfew is currently in place as the police and armed forces try to regain order in the town.
Local taxi drivers and couriers have gone on strike in solidarity with the miners, several of whom have now been arrested for causing ‘unrest’.
Many foreign workers are trapped in and around the mine complex, from countries such as Ghana, India, Zimbabwe, and Namibia. Plans are being made to evacuate those who wish to leave.
Octea are the largest and most profitable company in Sierra Leone’s diamond sector, for which the national economy is heavily reliant on. Despite diamond mining being a license to print money, the workers have historically been treated like shit and paid even worse.
Despite robbing blind the people of Sierra, an Octea spokesperson had this to say:
“Not only have they caused damage, but they have eroded the brave and sincere efforts by government, the private sector and the community in Sierra Leone to make this country an attractive investment destination. We are committed to this country and its people, and we will stand with those who wish to make this a better place for our children to live.”
Low level industrial dispute are commonplace, but not normally on this scale. Hopefully the workers are turning a corner.
Solidarity with the diamond miners in Sierra Leone