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Philippine-owned company evades meeting with workers

By Madeleine Arek

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (The National, April 8, 2008) - More than 300 national employees of Frescoma (PNG) Ltd in Lae are staying away from work until the company management adequately addresses their demands.

The company is a subsidiary of Frabelle (PNG) Ltd.

[PIR editor’s note: Workers at the Lae fish plant walked off their jobs in February.]

Employees at the Lae plant and fishermen on the company’s pump boats met at the Department of Civil Aviation beachfront yesterday and raised concerns over unfair working conditions by their Filipino employers.

They had been promised an audience with the company’s executives and members of the Morobe provincial fisheries authority at 9 a.m. yesterday. However, they were still waiting by lunchtime yesterday.

Among a number of issues they have raised, in a four-page letter to the Morobe administration and the Minister for Fisheries, is the demand for a rise in the PGK 0.85 [32 US cents] hourly rate paid to employees working in the company’s administration, receiving, production, maintenance and sanitation divisions.

The workers claimed the PGK50 to PGK60 [US$19 to US$23] fortnightly salary most of them receive does not correspond with the amount of work they do. Neither does it reflect the country’s economic growth, they said.

"We work under extreme conditions, often outside normal working hours; however, we are not compensated for it," one employee said. "We are not paid overtime nor given time-off to compensate for the extra hours worked," he added.

He said the prices of goods and services had increased and the money they get is not enough to cater for the needs of their families.

The frustrated workers said they were not provided with proper safety equipment either.

Workers at the plant’s receiving, maintenance, production and sanitation divisions said the safety boots they were issued were not proper and they were not given proper hand gloves, protective eye-wear, ear muffs and jackets and numerous attempts to get the management to act on the matter had always fallen on deaf ears.

One female employee alleged she had spit blood and suffered severe eye and chest pains after being exposed to chlorine and other chemicals at the workplace without proper safety gear.

"We are not issued nose masks and proper hand gloves although we brought the matter to the management several times," she said.

The female employee said they were exposed to these conditions everyday at the sanitation division where she works.

Similar concerns were raised by another female employee working at the company’s production division.

She said they worked without proper safety boots and hand gloves in conditions that were detrimental to health.

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