NEWS FROM NEW CALEDONIA AND FRENCH POLYNESIA

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Thursday, July 8, 1999
PINA Nius Online

NEW CALEDONIA BRACES FOR GENERAL STRIKE

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (July 8, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---The French Territory of New Caledonia is preparing for a general strike, called by four unions to protest what they say are "threats to basic labor rights," RFO-radio reported here Thursday.

The inter-union federation, which includes the French territory's public servants' association, the Union of Exploited Kanak Workers (USTKE), the Trade Union of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia (USOENC) and Force Ouvrière, said the decision to strike was made at a meeting on Thursday morning.

A call to support the strike is being forwarded to secondary schools, universities, other employees, and unemployed and retired people. They are being asked to protest what the federation sees as a threat to "acquired advantages."

On Wednesday, the anti-independence RPCR (Rally for New Caledonia Within the French- Republic) called on its supporters to boycott the strike, saying it was, "illegal, unbearable and violent."

"We've been saying for a long time that these practices are unbearable and only aim at destabilizing New Caledonia's economy. This is not trade unionism, this is politics," RPCR strongman Pierre Frogier said at a press conference.

"For over 10 years, trade disputes have been settled in the High Commissioner's office. Lots of trade union leaders have been making a good living out of this because they're getting benefits from actions they have organized themselves. This has to stop or else New Caledonia will die from this disease," said Frohier.

The unions' platform said the planned strike, which is the first common approach by New Caledonian unions, is an historical event.

"This time, we have overcome our differences because there was a risk that workers' rights could be questioned," union spokesman Louis Uregei said.

"We know there are pressure against workers within the companies in order to deter them from taking part in the strike. But, the more people who get these sort of threats, the more they'll want to take part," he said.

The unions are to submit a petition to the New Caledonian government, the French High Commission and the employers' federation asking for better recognition and representation and an increase in the minimum wage to US$ 1,000 per month.

Last week, some 160 disgruntled employers gathered here to discuss the tense social situation in strike-ridden Noumea.

The meeting followed a call from the employers' federation, the local Chamber of Commerce and several employers' unions to meet, after the ongoing strike severely affected several industries in the French territory's capital, including packaging and the domestic airline Air Calédonie.

The main concern was to find ways to bring the current disputes to an end, according to a spokesman.

"In the current disputes and industrial actions, it's simply about a power relationship, no longer about the social dialogue that should be in place. We should form a common platform, because we'll have to tackle some fundamental problems with trade unions, possibly in a peaceful spirit. Otherwise, we'll just go straight into the wall," Chamber of Commerce President Michel Quintard told the meeting.

The employers also expressed the wish to involve the French metropolitan and New Caledonian governments in the process.

An employers' delegation earlier this month met the French government's outgoing representative Dominique Bur, Noumea Mayor and New Caledonia's newly-elected president Jean Lèques and other members of the new government.

"The government has committed itself to setting up a structure to promote dialogue," Quintard said.

FRENCH POLYNESIA'S FLOSSE TO MEET FRENCH PRESIDENT CHIRAC

PAPE‘ETE, French Polynesia (July 8, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---French Polynesia President Gaston Flosse is currently in Paris to meet with French President Jacques Chirac, RFO-radio reported.

Flosse, who arrived in Paris Monday, is to meet with Rassemblement pour la République (RPR) party officials and French Assistant Minister for Overseas Territories Jean-Jacques Queyranne.

He will meet French President and RPR founder Jacques Chirac at the Elysée Palace Friday.

Talks are to focus on the drafting of an organic law that would define French Polynesia's new autonomy status approved last June by the French National Assembly.

The metropolitan Parliament has passed a constitutional amendment endorsing a change of status for French Polynesia, turning it from an "overseas territory" to an "overseas country."

Under the proposed status, which is set to be endorsed by the French Senate October 13, French Polynesia could create its own nationality and be able to handle foreign affairs matters.

FRENCH SCIENTIFIC SHIP STARTS ONE-MONTH STUDY IN FRENCH POLYNESIA

PAPE‘ETE, French Polynesia (July 6, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---Fourteen French and two American scientists started a 34-day study of the Austral group of islands onboard the science ship "Atalante" on Thursday, RFO-radio reported.

The Atalante, owned by the French scientific institute IFREMER (French Institute for Sea Research) and equipped with a multi-beam sounder, is to explore the Australs' sea bottoms up to 2,000 meters (6,600 feet) in order to update seabed maps over a 220,000 square kilometer (88,000 square mile) area, as well as assess existing mineral resources.

The ship's mission and the following analysis of results are under the Zepolyf (French Polynesia Economic Zone) program.

The first leg, Zepolyf 1, was carried out in 1996. Zepolyf 2 is jointly funded by the French Polynesian government and the French metropolitan government for US$ 320,000.

"This is all about getting a better knowledge of our underwater resources and also to contribute to the economic development of French Polynesia," Zepolyf 2 mission coordinator Alain Bonneville said.

"The sea in French Polynesia is essential. We live in this environment but, surprisingly enough, we don't know it well. We just know the surface, but not really the bottom", he said.

"We're going to search for new fishing grounds and techniques and species, which could later be used an as alternative and bear a commercial interest."

"There are underwater mounts that are covered by polymetallic layers. We already know there is cobalt out there, but there could be other minerals too. So we'll try to establish what sort of ores we can find and in 20 years or so, start exploiting them."

The Atalante is to leave French Polynesia on August 8.

This bulletin was produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Patrick Antoine DECLOITRE, Editor Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Damodar Centre, Level 2 46 Gordon Street Suva, Fiji Islands Tel: (679) 315 113 Fax: (679) 303 943 Mobile (679) 946 396 E-mail: [email protected]

For more information, contact Nina RATULELE, PINA Administrator, at [email protected]

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