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STRIKE BRINGS PNG’S’ OK TEDI MINE TO HALT Workers demand pay increase

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier, March 12, 2008) - The giant Ok Tedi mine was forced to stop operations yesterday as disgruntled Ok Tedi Mining and Allied Workers’ Union (OTM&AWU) members called on the management to increase their wages.

While no monetary figure was revealed on the losses so far, the company said the strike was already affecting mining and milling operations at the Tabubil Mine and concentrate handling and shipping at Kiunga.

According to company employees, gates to the mine site were locked preventing employees access to the site and the 10 semi-autogenous (SAG) mills were shut as no truck drivers turned up for work to feed the mills with ore.

Mine managing director Alan Breen said in a memorandum to staff yesterday morning that up to 300 employees attended stop work meetings. He said the stop work meetings were outside of the legal processes in the "Green Book" (the industrial agreement of 2005) that outlines the grievance resolution process between OTML and the Ok Tedi Mining and Allied Workers Union.

"OTML is most concerned about the decision of the OTM&AWU and its members to illegally withdraw their labor, bypassing the legal processes and industrial agreement provisions that are in place to resolve industrial disputes," Mr. Breen said. "The company is taking appropriate steps to address this illegal action."

However, union members said from Tabubil yesterday that the OTML management breached the 2005 Award Agreement that gave an undertaking for improved benefits and working conditions for employees. They added that all employees contributed equally to the well-being of the company and should be equally remunerated for their efforts.

Consequently the union has now asked for a 100 percent pay rise and is backing the sit-in protest conducted by the grieving staff.

The union members said that the Department of Labour and Industrial Relations has been alerted of the strike action and will be sending in their officers to the mine in Western Province to arbitrate over the matter.

They claimed that the OTML management has arranged a plane charter for 20 police mobile squad members based in Lae to fly over to watch over the company’s assets as well as keep an eye on the situation.

In a memorandum circulated yesterday morning to staff, Breen said he had spoken to the employees on stop work requesting the union to follow the established processes for resolving these grievances but the union and some of its members had taken further action to stop work in all OTML operational areas including Kiunga.

"You should be aware that industrial action is illegal unless it has been notified to the Industrial Registrar and approved by a secret ballot of the union conducted by the Electoral Commissioner under the supervision of the Industrial Registrar. This has not happened to date," Breen said.

"On a precautionary note and in the interests of your personal well being, I am advising you as employees and contractors to exercise restraint and caution and maintain a low profile over the next few days. This means limiting your presence in the township and around the town where possible. You should also contact your dependents today and let them know about the situation and request that they exercise the same level of restraint and caution."

Breen also appealed to the workers to return to work over this time and added that he was committed to improving the working lives of all OTML employees and that the company was progressively implementing changes.

He said the changes would take some time to be completed and the union was aware of this. "Lastly our improvements build on the basis that OTML employees are already among the highest paid in Papua New Guinea and enjoy the best, safest and most secure township facilities in the country. This is a fact that we are all proud of at OTML.

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