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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post Courier, Feb. 6) – The messing and kitchen facilities at the Ramu nickel/cobalt mine camp at Basamuk are not fit for pigs, Papua New Guinea Labor and Industrial Relations Secretary David Tibu said yesterday.

Commenting after a response from the mine management with a promise to improve facilities for workers at the project site, Mr. Tibu said if the project management does not improve working conditions, he will not hesitate to close the mine.

[PIR Editor’s Note: According to PIR news files, the Ramu Nickel/Cobalt project began when a Chinese resource developer and its joint venture partners signed two documents in August 2006 paving the way for the development of the Ramu nickel project in Morobe province—located in the north central part of Papua New Guinea’s mainland peninsula. China’s Metallurgical Construction Corp signed the agreement with State, joint venture partners Highlands Pacific Ltd, Mineral Resources Madang Ltd and the Mineral Resources Development Corp. The deal granted the Chinese company a 10-year tax holiday as incentive to kick-start the project and gave the join venture import duty and excise tax exemptions on its various imports.

He threatened to do that last week, but allowed the company to come good on its promises. He is to inspect the mine again soon to check on improvements promised.

Mr. Tibu said yesterday the mine has been asked to construct better messing and kitchen facilities, housing for workers who are currently living in makeshift tents, improve workers’ diet and move away from segregated accommodation for Chinese and national employees, "which suggested discrimination’’ in the treatment of workers.

Ramu Nikel/Cobalt mine developer, ENFI’s deputy general manager Li Mingchain in a written response to the Labor Department’s concern on January 30 said his company had discontinued paying workers tinned fish and rice in lieu of overtime.

He said the company would also improve facilities raised as concerns by the Department which contravened International Labor Organization standards.

Mr. Mingchain said more messing and kitchen facilities would be constructed and on the issue of open latrines for national employees, he said a local company had been contracted to build that. Chinese nationals at the mine use enclosed flushed toilet facilities.

Mr. Tibu said in his opinion and observation there was no proper messing and kitchen facility.

He said a shed was the mess. Mr. Mingchain also undertook to provide transport for local employees who live in their villages and commute to work every day.

Mr. Mingchain said the company was still working on a pay structure for its workforce. Presently an unskilled laborer gets PGK1.10 [US 39 cents] an hour, a skilled tradesman gets paid PGK1.50 and a light duty driver PGK2 an hour [US 53 cents and US 71 cents, respectively].

The Labor Department wants the mine to meet International Labor Organization standards for: proper enclosed toilets. Currently both male and female employees use an open latrine with logs placed across an open pit with no privacy; living quarters to be improved. Current makeshift tents are flooded when it rains and provision of same quality of accommodation for both Chinese and Papua New Guinea workers; improvement of the pay structure; improved diet for workers from just tinned fish and rice currently; engagement of a proper catering company instead of villagers; provision of insurance for employees; and the use of proper equipment.

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