BLACKOUT WORRY AS PNG PRIVATIZATION PROTEST CONTINUES

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (November 14, 2000 - Post-Courier/PINA Nius Online)---Major centers are threatened with a power blackout, unless energy workers heed a warning from management.

The Papua New Guinea Energy Association yesterday threatened to shut down all power generation plants throughout the country.

The looming action is part of the campaign against privatization of national assets.

Last night, Elcom general manager Sev Maso said the threat to shut down power plants was illegal.

He cautioned that all employees taking part in the stop work meeting faced "severe disciplinary action."

The anti-privatization campaign yesterday saw violence in the country’s second-biggest city, Lae, where some people took advantage of the campaign to smash shop windows and loot stores. The trouble lead to most businesses in the main Lae shopping areas shutting for the day and many students being sent home.

A circular yesterday advised all key members of the energy workers association in strategic locations throughout the country to follow set standards and procedures for shutting down machines between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m. and restoring power by 6:00 p.m.

The union said: "All power generation plants are to be switched off or shut down at 7:30 a.m. All members are to stay away from work until you are advised by the union executives when to return to work."

Other union groups, including the National Airline Employees Association, waterfront workers, Telikom PNG and health workers, have threatened to disrupt basic services in Port Moresby today after parts of PNG experienced similar disruptions.

Lae was practically a ghost town yesterday as most businesses closed due to a peaceful stop work meeting instigated by the PNG Trade Union Congress.

In Port Moresby, hundreds of employees from Air Niugini, the Harbours Board, Telikom, Port Moresby General Hospital (doctors and nurses), Elcom workers, UPNG students and non government groups, gathered at the Sir John Guise Stadium for a stop work meeting.

These actions follow the PNGTUC presenting a petition on privatization and the proposed write down of holdings in the National Provident Fund to Opposition Leader Bill Skate.

They have resolved to continue stop work meetings and adopt other measures. They warned of continuing service disruptions until the issues were resolved in their favor.

PNGTUC President John Paska said: "The delegation who presented the petition to the opposition were sad because both Prime Minister Sir Mekere Morauta and his office failed to confirm that they would receive the petition.

"We interpret this as showing disdain and contempt for workers and ordinary citizens. In our view, the PM and the government have lost integrity and credibility in the eyes of the workers."

But Privatization Minister Vincent Auali claimed yesterday’s nationwide stop work was a failure.

Mr. Paska said, "We will continue stop work meetings and I warn that nearly all services will be disrupted today except for water, hospital and perhaps communication services until the government gives us a favorable answer,"

Electricity Commission general manager Sev Maso said the action taken to shut down power generation plants would be illegal under the PNGEC Act and warned all employees participating in the stop work meeting would face severe disciplinary actions.

Mr. Maso said the energy workers association had no authority to direct his employees to participate in activities illegally.

He appealed to all the workers to comply with the law.

He warned that the association and the union would be fully liable for any damages or third party claims from customers who suffered any loss from the stop work meeting.

Late yesterday, association general secretary Philip Kaira said the association would not back off from disrupting power supply.

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

Pacific Islands News Association (PINA) Website: http://www.pinanius.org 

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