UNION RESUMES BLOCKADE OF NEW CALEDONIA NICKEL VESSELS

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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (March 8, 2000 - Oceania Flash/SPC)---SOENC (Union of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia) has resumed a blockade of nickel-carrying vessels to New Caledonia's only smelter in Doniambo (near Noumea), as part of a six-week ongoing industrial action, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reported.

Since Monday, SOENC has stranded two nickel-carrying vessels, the Artid Trader and the Marian, at the seaside mining sites of Kouaoua and Népui, north of the island of New Caledonia.

The boats were left half-loaded, as union pickets prevented any operation of the loading equipment.

In Kouaoua, some 17,000 tons of nickel were to have been loaded in the ship for Doniambo's smelter.

Meanwhile, a third ship is immobilized at the Doniambo smelter's wharf.

Last week, SOENC resolved to pursue the strike action -- which had been suspended for a while -- and resume blockades on the supply of nickel ore to the French territory's only smelter until the management agrees to withdraw a restructuring plan.

The plan is aimed at increasing production, while cutting costs by 15 percent.

The dispute started late January, when the union took action and barred access to nickel ore carriers supplying SLN's and New Caledonia's only nickel smelter at Doniambo.

Production dropped to 70%.

Last month, in order to save the plant from closing down, SOENC agreed to allow access to the nickel cargo boats traveling from the mainland's east coast to Noumea, providing the furnace the 9,000 tons per day it needs to function normally.

This allowed SLN to rebuild some nickel stock while cautiously not using the smelter at full capacity.

"We maintain our claims. We demand that this restructuring plan be cancelled," SOENC-SLN President Sylvain Néa said after the meeting.

"We will start blocking the vessels again, but since we don't want to risk the destruction of the smelter, we'll still allow a few of them. We'll drip-feed the plant," Néa said.

Meanwhile, the union has written to SLN management, asking them to revise their plan, taking into account "the real nickel market situation."

SOENC also wrote to the local government and the French authorities, asking to be allowed to explain their stand.

"If we don't get answers to what we are demanding, we're considering a harder stand, possibly roadblocks," Néa hinted.

Société le Nicklel (SLN) management and the union started talks on Tuesday evening to resolve the six-week conflict, but so far have not reached an agreement.

 

ONE IN FIVE WOMEN VICTIM OF VIOLENCE IN NEW CALEDONIA

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (March 8, 2000 - OFO)---One in five women in New Caledonia is a victim of violence, regardless of her social or ethnic group, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

The paper quotes sexual, moral, and physical violence as the main types of abuse New Caledonian women suffer.

But the topic, as in many other parts of the Pacific, is usually hushed and subject to the "law of silence" because of social taboos. Most of the victims are either afraid or ashamed, and they rarely take the matter to court.

A recent study quoted in the newspaper says the victims may come from varied social and ethnic backgrounds.

Contributing factors were promiscuity, precarious living conditions or alcohol consumption.

In Noumea's Gaston Bourret Territorial Hospital, the outpatients and emergency services are crowded with cases of violence against women, an estimated one case out of two.

However, for the past few years, some things have changed.

Non-governmental organizations and associations have begun to devote more of their work to the defense of women's rights.

In 1991, a so-called Mission for Women's Rights was born. Its goal is to protect, inform and train women to help them live a "normal social life."

In 1992, the same association also set up a family counseling center in Noumea, where women can find psychological, legal and medical support.

Other associations, like Women and Domestic Violence or SOS Sexual Violence, help women in their rehabilitation process.

Local associations here say things now are beginning to change. Abused women are more and more outspoken, no longer ashamed, and ready to take matters to court, or simply leave their household.

Similarly, the number of abuse or domestic violence cases reported to the police is on the rise.

From the meager four complaints in 1996, current statistics show that in 1997, some 179 reports were filed for similar cases, 181 for 1998 and 191 for 1999.

Local associations, however, say those figure should be multiplied by five in order to obtain a picture of the real situation.

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