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Jails are vulnerable and prisoners could escape

PORT MORESBY, Papua New Guinea (PNG Post-Courier. June 16, 2008) – Jails throughout the country face the threat of prisoners escaping because more than 1,200 employees throughout the country withdrew their services as of last Friday.

The action stemmed from a promise the Correctional Service management and the Government failed to honor a pay rise for the employees.

On Friday, all court matters, hospital runs and other administrative office work were suspended for an indefinite period, pending a response from the CS management.

More than 200 workers in Bomana prison met in front of the prison gate, leaving it wide open and abandoning duties for 35 prisoners to be taken by police for the National Court purposes or court proceedings for that day.

Hospital duties they were obliged to carry out were also abandoned that day and the withdrawal of services affects prisons and CS operations nationwide.

Employees, both men and women, aired their grievances, saying the PGK370 [US$142] they received as their base salary was now infringing on their daily lives, as prices of goods and services had skyrocketed and the amount was not sufficient for the standard of living in the city.

About 31 sergeant majors, 139 sergeants, 215 corporals, 183 lance corporals, 528 warders and 114 recruits throughout the country withdrew their services last Friday over their pay increase promised by Commissioner Richard Sikani and his management recently.

"Prices of goods in the city are way up and this PGK370 that I receive a fortnight cannot even sustain my family for a week," one officer said.

"I spend PGK80 [US$31] on a bag of rice and the rest can’t even get me through the next pay week. This is torture for me and my family and I am demanding that the pay increase promised us by the management be immediately done this pay week."

Other officers said, "We are withdrawing our services as of today pending explanation from the management on when the pay rise will be effected, they promised us that on pay 13 we will have the salary structure improved with our pay increase effected, this has not happened."

Many more comments came from aggrieved employees openly pleading for support from their union executive also for help on the issue. They also talked about transparency in the rate used for the recent PGK5 million allocated them because they claim while the money was distributed to fill the pockets of senior officers; the "small people" doing the dirty work and sweating their guts out had been left out of the pay increase.

Meanwhile, Correctional Service management yesterday told the Post-Courier there was misunderstanding between the workers on how everything was being handled.

The management said an attempt to address the workers on Friday failed because no-one was there to listen to them. They said they would hold another meeting with them today.

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