WORKERS STRIKE AT LIHIR GOLD MINE IN PNG

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PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, Sept. 3) – Gold mining operations on Lihir Island in Papua New Guinea remained shut as disgruntled workers continued their strike into the fourth day.

The Government flew heavily armed police to the island from Port Moresby on Saturday to guard company assets, as negotiations continued between the Lihir Gold Ltd (LGL) management and representatives of the 3,500-strong workforce.

News of the strike subtly pushed up gold prices on the global market at between US$667 to US$668 per ounce in early trading last Friday.

LGL confirmed its workers’ industrial action in an advice to the Port Moresby Stock Exchange last Friday but was tightlipped about its potential losses.

Analysts said news of the Lihir action had a small effect on the world price of gold in Europe and the commodities exchange in New York.

On Lihir Island, an Air Niugini Dash 8 aircraft and its crew dashed for "freedom" at 3am yesterday when they flew out of the island despite landowners closing down the island’s Londolovit airport.

The Air Niugini aircraft had been grounded since the strike began on Friday while another plane owned by Airlines PNG remained on the island.

Labour and Industrial Relations Secretary David Tibu condemned the industrial action, saying there were procedures the workers could have used instead of shutting down the mine’s operations.

He said his department only learnt of the strike after reading about it in last Friday’s edition of the Post-Courier.

The Port Moresby-based police air tactical unit flew to the island on the PNG Defence Force CASA at the orders of Police Commissioner Gari Baki, who was in New Ireland for the New Guinea Islands election debriefing program.

The striking workers were expecting New Ireland Governor Sir Julius Chan to fly to Lihir yesterday afternoon to receive their petition.

They vowed not to resume work until their CEO Arthur Hood personally addressed issues highlighted in their petition. Some contentious issues they are raising relate to:

A team from the department led by industrial registrar Helen Saleu was sent to Lihir on a helicopter to start negotiations between the disputing parties.

"We know they (LGL employees) are frustrated but they must follow the laws," Mr Tibu said, while warning that shutting down public infrastructure such as airports could attract criminal charges.

It is understood the lack of a union body for the grieving workers was one reason behind the deployment of the labour office team.

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