Surat diamond industry fears 2nd recession in a decade

By Gargi Raval

Surat, Aug 29 (IANS/ 101Reporters) "I am stuck in this phase of life where I cannot go ahead or go back. The situation has been the same for two months. One day my employer asked me and six other colleagues not to come to work, leaving us in the middle of nowhere," rues Subhash Mansuriya, a former diamond worker in Surat, Gujarat.

With two children and his wife to support, the 35-year-old diamond artisan is clueless about his sustenance and has been on a job search for two months. He lost his job after serving for six years at a diamond factory, which now he doesn't want to name, saying it will bring bad luck.

He was not even given severance pay. However, it was after the Diamond Workers Union intervened that he got two months' pay.

Like Mansuriya, there are many workers who were sacked from their jobs because of the uncertainty in the market. Many factories have placed notices in front of their main gates saying, "Use money wisely, there may be a longer vacation for Navratri."

Tejas Patel, a diamond worker, said there is uncertainty in this business and he doesn't know how long he will keep his job. He earns around Rs 18,000 per month and has a family to support.

He added that since he is not highly educated or possesses any other skills, he is worried about his future as he has been cutting and polishing diamonds for the last eight years. He said many factories shut down without paying a single penny to their workers. As the workers are disorganised, there is nobody to raise a voice for their rights.

Ranmal Jilariaya, the president of Diamond Workers Union, said the job situation in the diamond industry is grim. People have been sacked without prior notice and not given proper severance, he added.

"We started data collection of those who have lost their jobs. We will send the data to the state government and will demand that they bear education expenses for their kids," he said.

There are around 15,000 large and small industries and nearly seven lakh people are dependent on this industry. More than six lakh people in Surat are associated with the diamond industry which is home to over 3,500 small, medium and large diamond factories.

Nearly 60,000 diamond workers are currently jobless across Gujarat, of which 13,000 are from Surat. After Diwali in 2017, many of the diamond industries ceased operating and around 40 per cent of them remained shut even after the vacation. In 2018, around 750 artisans were sacked. According to Gujarat Diamond Workers Union, more than 10 artisans committed suicide after they lost their jobs in 2018.

Tough times

Shreyan Soni of Soni Diamond Business Institute said the diamond industry in Surat is facing one of the worst phases of business owing to the recession. After the fraud by Nirav Modi, Mehul Choksi and Jatin Mehta, banks are not lending money to the business, he said.

Moreover, demonetisation and GST have adversely affected the industry and the businesses which were making losses are nearly on the death bed, he said.

He admitted that many of the factories have reduced the work timings and have reduced to one shift from the three shifts. The introduction of synthetic diamond is also one of the major reasons, he said while adding that the demand from abroad has also reduced.

With an aim to boost the diamond business, the Surat Diamond Association organised a three-day exhibition-cum-business meet in August. According to their own estimates, more than 900 workers in the diamond industry have lost their jobs, while some of the business owners have reduced the work hours and slashed the shifts since January.

A memorandum of understanding was agreed upon to give a boost to the business, said Babu Gujarati, president of Surat Diamond Association.

--IANS

raval/am/kr

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