PRIME MINISTER SKATE AND UNIONS SETTLE PNG STRIKE

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 30, 1998 - Post-Courier)---The Government gave in to most union demands and averted a major nationwide strike on Friday. But Prime Minister Bill Skate and some ministers were reportedly upset at being blacklisted from boarding Air Niugini flights.

The settling of the dispute lead to Mr. Skate canceling his trip to Sydney to appear at the mining and petroleum conference -- for the second year in a row.

Airline services were badly affected and some medical services in the capital were hit. Unions are believed to be planning to meet again today to brief their members.

Mr. Skate and many of his ministers held a two-hour closed door meeting with trade union leaders, led by General Secretary John Paska and President Gasper Lapan on Friday morning. The parties emerged later to announce that the Government had agreed to most of the eight issues raised in the union's petition.

Mr. Skate said: "We have addressed the eight points they raised. We have agreed on a few and a few need more dialogue.''

A working committee headed by Chief Secretary Robert Igara will look into areas of disagreement.

Mr. Skate wrote to Trade Union Congress President Gaspar Lapan, voicing his satisfaction at the frank talks and saying the Government was committed to working closely with the union movement.

He said the Government would not abolish or alter the systems of industrial relations and any moves in that direction would be considered with full consultation with the TUC and the Employers Federation.

Mr. Skate addressed the union's petition as follows:

WITHDRAWAL and review of the 1999 Budget: "Since Parliament has approved and passed the Budget, this cannot be agreed to. However, the union to note that the Government as part of the implementation process will review and ensure that the decisions and directions under the 1999 Budget are implemented in full consultation with relevant agencies of Government."

INDUSTRIAL relations groups: "Government has agreed to re-instate the recurrent budgets of the various institutions in the petition amounting to K 1.2 million. The legislation establishing these bodies has not and will not be repealed and therefore exist legally."

REINSTATEMENT of all other abolished functions of Government: "The 13 statutory bodies have not been abolished but merged with other existing government agencies. The government's position is that they should be self-financing.''

CONSULTATION on Budget: "A cross-section of the community was consulted before the Budget was drawn up."

TERMINATION of employment contract of Dr. Pirouz Hamidian-Rad. "Government disagrees, saying it will cost more to deport him.''

WITHDRAWAL and abolition of K 1.5 million allocation to Members of Parliament: "Parliament had approved allocation of K 1 million for the rural development projects while only K 0.5 million was allocated as RAP funds for each MP.''

VAT: "The Government to head an impact study of the introduction and operation of VAT with involvement from TUC and Employers' Federation."

Other issues that were covered during Friday's meeting were a review of the Minimum Wage Board since its abolition in 1992 and the tax on interest.

The Prime Minister commended union leaders, saying they had "a right to defend and protect their members.''

TUC General Secretary John Paska said: "We have been able to successfully negotiate some of the major issues, particularly the core functions of the industrial relations organizations are fully restored.'' Naturally we are not happy with some of the issues that the Government has not agreed to. We have taken note of those and we will deal with them at an appropriate time.''

Members of the Trade Union Congress and their affiliates voted unanimously to strike last Friday.

Hundreds of angry members took the action after waiting for nearly four hours in the hot sun for feedback from TUC executives on the meeting with Government.

While the executives were waiting at the Parliament, the members resolved to go on a rolling strike at 4:00 p.m. Friday until lunch-hour today. The strike will stay until they hear from leaders today. Minutes after the crowd dispersed, union executives arrived armed with a copy of the letter from Mr. Skate that the union's petition was addressed successfully.

It was not until TUC executives John Paska and Clemence Kanau arrived at the Jacksons control tower and asked staff to return to work that they did so, at 6:00 p.m. Saturday.

For additional reports from The Post-Courier, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The Post-Courier (Papua New Guinea).

STRIKE TO END TODAY

By Cyril Gare

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 30, 1998 - The National)---Trade union executives are expected to meet their members here today to call off the nationwide strike following talks with Prime Minister Bill Skate on their demands in relation to the 1999 Budget.

Union members, frustrated at the drawn out meeting between the executives and Mr. Skate, had voted for the strike on Friday afternoon, throwing into chaos services, especially at hospitals and airports.

At the meeting with Mr. Skate, the union executives secured the reinstatement of funding of the key industrial relations and employment functions equivalent to the 1998 K 1.2 million recurrent allocation in 1999.

The Government also agreed to reconvene the Minimum Wages Board next year to review the existing minimum wage level, a function which was deregulated in 1982.

The Government however, refused the unions' demands calling for:

* Withdrawal and review of the 1999 Budget;

* Reinstatement of all other abolished functions of the Government;

* Consultation on the 1999 budget;

* Termination of employment contract of advisor Dr. Pirouz Hamidian-Rad;

* Withdrawal and abolition of K 1.5 million allocation to MPs; and

* Scrapping of the Value Added Tax.

The union executives, including PNG Trade Union Congress President Gasper Lapan, General Secretary John Paska and Clemence Kanau, who had been Acting General Secretary, are expected to meet their members at the OTC grounds at Five-Mile at 8:00 a.m. today to brief them on the outcome of their talks with Mr. Skate.

Air Niugini and the Port Moresby General Hospital reported disruptions of services since Friday.

Air Niugini said it lost close to K 3 million with 5,000 passengers stranded nationwide while Port Moresby General Hospital closed its adult outpatient clinic, surgical ward 3C and obstetrics and gynecology ward 10.

It reduced services provided at the children's outpatient clinic, accident and emergency dept, all other wards, X-ray, laboratories and operating theatres.

There were no interruptions, as expected, in the banking service, telecommunications and electricity sectors and the PMV service.

In a letter to Mr. Lapan on Friday afternoon, Prime Minister Skate said: "The Government re-affirms its position that it will not take any steps to abolish or alter the system of industrial relations currently in place in Papua New Guinea.

"Any initiatives to improve the system will only be considered and undertaken with full consultation and after agreement by all parties including the Trade Union Congress and the Employers' Federation."

He said the Government appreciated the concerns of the Trade Union Congress and agreed to commission a study on the impact of the introduction and operation of the VAT, especially on the prices of basic items and on the cost of living.

He said the study will be headed by Chief Secretary Robert Igara. It will be designed and undertaken in full consultation and co-operation with the TUC and the Employers' Federation prior to implementation of the VAT scheduled for July 1, 1999.

The unions noted the explanations given by the Government on the tax being imposed on interest earnings as part of the revenue measures in that it was agreed the Government will only tax interest earnings above K 3,000 and there would be no tax on the principle.

"TUC representatives undertook to recommend to their membership not to pursue any industrial action and that they will pursue the interests of their members and other issues of concern through dialogue and negotiations with the Government through the Central Agencies Committee," Mr. Skate's letter said.

"I would appreciate, if you and your executives can bring these understandings and commitments to the attention of your members."

For additional reports from The National, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/The National (Papua New Guinea).

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