Diamond workers’ strike turns deadly, hits trade

Diamond workers’ strike turns deadly, hits trade
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First Published: Mon, Jul 07 2008. 12 12 AM IST

Demanding raise: A file photo of a cutter at a Surat unit measuring the dimensions of an uncut diamond. A worker earns Rs150-200 a day, depending on the shape and quality of the diamond he polishes or
Demanding raise: A file photo of a cutter at a Surat unit measuring the dimensions of an uncut diamond. A worker earns Rs150-200 a day, depending on the shape and quality of the diamond he polishes or
Updated: Mon, Jul 07 2008. 12 12 AM IST
Ahemdabad/Bhavnagar: The strike by diamond workers in Gujarat for higher wages took a serious turn on Sunday as a worker was killed and six other injured in Bhavnagar when a security guard at a diamond unit opened fire on agitators.
The private security guard of a diamond-polishing unit opened fire on the workers who were protesting in Kumudwadi area of Bhavnagar, the police said.
“We have detained the security guard who opened fire,” Bhavnagar district superintendent of police Anupam Singh Gehlot said.
Demanding raise: A file photo of a cutter at a Surat unit measuring the dimensions of an uncut diamond. A worker earns Rs150-200 a day, depending on the shape and quality of the diamond he polishes or cuts. (Photo: Santosh Verma/Bloomberg)
The strike is likely to affect the country’s diamond exports since cities in the state that include Surat, Rajkot, Ahmedabad, Amreli and Bhavnagar account for the majority of exports of polished diamonds from India, the world’s largest exporter.
“The exports may not fall in value terms but volumes will definitely be lower,” said C.P. Vanani, president of Surat Diamond Traders Association, which represents owners of diamond-polishing units in the port city that has a large concentration of diamond merchants.
“Wages have remained static for over a decade, so we have no option but to ask for a wage revision,” said Babubhai Jeerawala, president of Surat Ratna Kalakar Sangh, that represents diamond-polishers in the city.
A worker in this industry earns Rs150-200 a day, depending on the shape and quality of the diamond he polishes or cuts. “With inflation at a 13-year high and prices of essential commodities soaring, it has become difficult for the workers to survive,” Jeerawala added.
More than 400,000 diamond workers launched a protest earlier this week after many small and medium diamond-polishing units refused to agree to a 20% wage hike.
The workers had been demanding at least a 30% hike in wages for a while. On 30 June, owners of most diamond polishing units agreed to raise workers’ wages by 20%.
“However, about a fifth of the small and medium-sized units refused to raise wages for their workers, citing a slowdown in demand and lower exports,” Jeerawala said.
India’s exports of cut and polished diamonds soared 36.95% to some $2.5 billion (Rs10,802 crore) in the first two months of this financial year that began on 1 April, compared with $1848.94 million in the same period a year ago, according to data available with Gem and Jewellery Export Promotion Council, or GJEPC. Imports of rough diamonds in the two months have also risen 23.08% to $1.9 billion from $1.5 billion in the same period a year ago.
In the last financial year, Hong Kong emerged as the largest importer of cut and polished diamonds from India, with a share of 35% of exports, followed by the US, which accounted for another 24%, and the United Arab Emirates, which imported 13%, according to GJEPC.
Soaring prices of rough diamonds and the slowdown in the American economy have already forced thousands of workers to switch from the diamond industry to other sectors such as textiles or agriculture, Vanani said.
“Diamond factories have been badly affected. If some of our friends (owners) in the industry are resisting the rise, it is quite understandable,” he added. “Everybody is facing tough times and we have to strike a balance.”
PTI contributed to this story.
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First Published: Mon, Jul 07 2008. 12 12 AM IST